Summer time is driving time for many Americans, who take to the highways for weekend getaways, visits to family and friends and summer vacation. But while millions of drivers will be motoring toward fun, the nation's big rig truck drivers will be all business on the roads - keeping cargo moving and ensuring the products we all depend upon make their way to their destinations.
Trucking is one of the most important and underappreciated industries in the country. "Over 75 percent of everything we touch has been transported by truck," notes Robb Mariani, host of Speed's original series "American Trucker," which airs 10 p.m. Thursdays. "Truck drivers are an essential part of our economy and our daily lives."
Statistically, big rigs are involved in just 2.4 percent of all vehicle accidents, according to the website TruckInfo.net. In fact, regular motor vehicles are three times more likely to be in an accident than are trucks, the site says.
Regular vehicle drivers can do a lot to help ensure truck accident statistics stay low by following some safety rules for sharing the road with big rigs. Mariani offers this advice:
• Be aware of the distance a big truck needs to stop. "At 55 mph, a big rig needs the length of a football field to stop," Mariani says. "Wet roads and bad weather extend that stopping distance even longer." Never cut in front of a big truck and then hit the brakes; the driver may not be able to avoid a collision.
• If you're behind a big truck and you can't see the truck's mirrors, it means the driver can't see you. Avoid traveling in the truck's blind spots - which are much bigger than the blind spots in a regular vehicle.
• Courtesy counts, especially when on the road with a big truck. If a trucker driver is signaling to merge into your lane, it's courteous - and safer - to slow down and let him in.
• As long as you're not following too closely, behind a big truck may be the safest place to be when you have to be near one on the road. If a truck is going too slow, make sure you pass safely, giving the truck plenty of room. If you're traveling on a three-lane highway, instead of passing a truck in the right lane, move all the way to the left lane to pass - but only when it's safe to do so.
• At an intersection, be aware that a turning truck may have to swing wide to make the turn. A truck has to travel farther into an intersection before initiating a turn than a passenger vehicle would need to. Give the truck plenty of room and never pass a turning truck on the inside (turning) side.
• If you're stopped at a red light and a big truck is approaching the light on the cross road, be aware that he may not be able to stop if the light turns yellow in front of him. Even if the light turns green for you, wait to be sure the truck can stop.
• Hot roads increase the possibility of a blowout for any type of tire. When a big rig blows a tire, flying rubber parts can cause dangerous conditions for other vehicles. While drivers are supposed to pre-check their tires before getting on the road, it's impossible for a trucker to anticipate when a tire might blow out. Try to avoid spending too much time beside a big truck; you could be at risk of getting hit by debris if a tire blows out.
• When driving in the mountains, be aware of the truck's challenges. The truck will go slower up an incline and gain speed going down. Never pass a truck going uphill and then cut in front of him on the downside of the slope. Likewise, never stop your car in or block the emergency truck ramp alongside a highway. The ramps exist to help slow and stop trucks experiencing brake failure.
"Every time we go into a store looking for something, it's there - because a truck driver delivered it," Mariani says. "Safety on the road is everyone's responsibility. When we drive in a courteous manner around a big rig, we're helping truck drivers do a very important job - while making everyone on the road safer."