Sharing The Freeway With 18-Wheelers

Anyone who has driven on a freeway anywhere in the U.S. knows that 18-wheelers and other large trucks are a part of the traffic. What they often do not realize is that 18-wheelers are not simply “large cars”. Not only do 18-wheelers have very different characteristics than cars but their drivers operate with a different set of constraints as well.

Its obvious that 18-wheelers are large, but how large? While a typical car may weigh 5,000 lbs. the maximum gross weight in most cases for an 18-wheeler is 80,000 lbs. Let’s think about that for a moment – the typical 18-wheeler weighs as much as 16 cars! The maximum width of an 18-wheeler is 8.5 feet while they can be as tall as 13.5 feet with the trailer being 53 feet long.

And if that wasn’t enough to make it interesting, in the U.S. we allow “doubles” and “triples” which can have a maximum gross weight of 147,000 lbs. and can be enormously long. The weight of a fully-laden double 18-wheeler is as much as 29 typical cars.

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The 18-wheeler in this picture is a “double” truck driving down the freeway. To the rear of the vehicle can be seen a typical car that is about to pass the truck. I wonder if the driver of the car realizes that the 18-wheeler weighs the same as 29 cars or that it is as long as 6 cars.

Truck drivers are professional drivers who have a special driver’s license, known as a “Commercial Drivers License” or CDL class A. They are well trained and typically have a great deal of experience driving in all type of traffic and weather conditions. There are many constraints on drivers, such as the number of hours per day they can drive and they must keep a regular log of their driving hours. They must regularly stop at “weighing” stations where highway officials ensure that the maximum weight of their vehicle is maintained.

The reasons for all of the rules and regulations around 18-wheelers and their drivers is that, due to their size, they can be very dangerous on the road. A few tips on dealing with 18-wheelers on the freeway:

  • Stay out of their blind spots. The drivers of 18-wheelers have large blind spots and generally if you can’t see their mirrors, they cannot see you. When alongside an 18-wheeler always make sure you can be seen in one of their mirrors. If the driver cannot see you in the mirror, you may find a very large vehicle merging into your relatively “tiny” car.
  • Trucks can sway. In strong winds trucks can sway from side to side. If you consider the large width of an 18-wheeler it is wise to leave trucks additional space when alongside an 18-wheeler so when the truck sways there is little chance of having to make an emergency maneuver to get out of the way.
  • Trucks require extra space to stop. Given the large weight of trucks, it takes a much longer period of time and space for them to slow and /or stop. When 18-wheelers are following other vehicles, they leave what appears to be a large space between them and the vehicle to the front. In reality, all of this space is needed and the worst thing the driver of a car can do is to “sneak” into this space. Remember that it takes that truck a very long time to stop and having the bumper of an 18-wheeler in your back seat would be very uncomfortable.
  • Don’t slow them down on hills. Due to the large weight of 18-wheelers, momemtum is very important for them to maintain their speed up hills. Don’t move in front of a large truck and proceed to slow them down when approaching a hill. Wait until the top of the hill to change lanes and if you are going to be driving slower than the 18-wheeler, pull in behing the truck.
  • Truck drivers are drivers. The drivers of 18-wheelers face all of the normal frustrations and emotions that all other drivers face. They want to get home at the end of the day as well and traffic is not any more fun for them than it is for you. They have to deal with “crazy” drivers just like you do. 

18-wheelers are a very important part of our transportation system and a major method of delivering the goods everyone enjoys. Truck drivers are the key to making these goods available so when driving the freeways please make sure to give a little extra thought to sharing the road. Be sure to visit our page about online drivers ed for further information.


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