As Memorial Day revs up the summer driving season, drivers are reminded about one of the biggest dangers: sharing the road with big trucks.
Compared with passenger cars, trucks are heavier, need far more braking distance to stop, a bigger radius when turning, and more maneuvering room to avoid roadway hazards. And they also have lots of blind spots where they can't see your car.
All of which can spell disaster: In 2011, nearly 3,400 people died nationwide in collisions with big-rig trucks, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Of those fatalities, 66 percent were occupants of passenger cars.
"It doesn't get much notice because they trickled in one at a time," said Tully Lehman, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California, in an email. "But this would be the equivalent of 19 Boeing 737s crashing in a single year. If that were to happen, you would see congressional hearings ... into a major transportation safety issue."
To demonstrate safety on the road, the IINC, California Highway Patrol and California Trucking Association recently hosted a live Bay Area demo, showing how much distance a big rig needs to stop, compared with a passenger car. Because a big rig is about 20 to 30 times heavier than a standard sedan, Lehman noted, it needs about 300 feet, roughly the length of a football field, to come to a stop.
Pay attention to how to avoid a truck's blind spots.
Here are more tips from the CHP on sharing the road with big rigs:
Allow plenty of room when changing lanes in front of a truck.
Pass trucks quickly and don't linger beside a truck.
Pass a truck on the left, not the right. A truck's righthand blind spot runs the length of the trailer and extends out three lanes.
Allow plenty of room around trucks. Try to leave a 10-car gap when driving in front of a truck and 20-25 car lengths when following a truck.
Use a truck's mirrors. If you are following a truck and cannot see the driver's face in the truck's side mirrors, it means the driver cannot see you.
Give trucks adequate space to maneuver. Trucks make wide turns at intersections and require additional lanes to turn.