Seeing Vehicles Two Lanes to My Right
When your vehicle is close in front of my tractor (in front of the tractor’s bumper by a small number of compact-size car lengths) and two lanes to the right of my lane, it is obviously out of my mirrored view but I can see your vehicle directly out my right side window and/or windshield. When preparing to change to the lane next to mine on my right, I will be signaling and checking my tractor’s large mirror, the small convex mirrors and my direct sight lines on my right side for any traffic in that lane. If that lane is empty I will check for vehicles moving into that lane from the next lane over (your lane) before initiating my lane change.
This second check for vehicle movement from two lanes over to my right is far from perfect. Once a vehicle two lanes to my right has advanced past the tail of my trailer, it virtually disappears from mirrored and direct view until it is even with my tractor.
Caution zones on my right side are less visible than their counterparts on my left. Mirror optics are more restrictive–the distance between me and my right side mirrors narrows my field of vision on that side, and darkness further diminishes visual clarity. My large right mirror and the small convex mirrors mounted below the large mirror and on my tractor’s right fender are aimed back along the sides of my tractor and trailer at the lane next to mine on my right, and their fields of vision out to their sides are limited. Thus my mirror views of vehicles two lanes to my right are not as good as my mirror views of vehicles in the right lane next to mine.
At night or in other dim conditions, headlight reflections on the outer rims of my small convex mirrors and ambient light may alert me more readily to a vehicle in the right side blind area that I may be able to confirm by leaning backward and forward and side to side to alter my mirror sight lines. However I prefer to wait to see if the vehicle will pull forward where it is more visible. Once even with my tractor and in front of it, vehicles appear in my direct lines of sight out my right side window and windshield. These direct (non-mirror) views of vehicles two lanes to my right are actually better than those one lane to my right, where at certain points smaller vehicles may be largely or completely hidden from me.
As a general rule it is safest to assume that when your vehicle is two lanes to the right of my lane, it is not visible to me until it is even with, or in front of my tractor. One other important non-mirror detail: I have a broader direct view out the left side of my cab (tractor) than out the right side.
When You and I Change Lanes
If you’re two lanes to my right and you pull close in front of my tractor, I’m not concerned about you. However, if you then move one lane to your left, you will be in a risk zone. I’ll be able to see your move directly out my tractor’s right side window and/or windshield and will continue to monitor your vehicle so long as you stay close.
By “close” I mean any distance less than the distance my truck is traveling in 2 seconds. For example if my truck and your vehicle were traveling at 60 mph (miles per hour) the “close” distance (risk zone) in front of my truck would be anything less than 180 feet (rounded up) or approximately 12 compact-size 14 1/2-foot car lengths or approximately 2 1/2 big rig truck lengths. This lead threshold is arbitrary, not government-mandated. It is my way of estimating a minimal time window for me to recognize and respond to any sudden action taken by a personal vehicle driver in front of me. I advise treating this 2 second lead threshold as our practical basic minimum on the open road at highway speeds (see the Risk Zone: Close in Front of My Truck and in the Right Lane Next to Mine and the Risk Zone: Close and Directly in Front of My Truck tips).
I advise personal vehicle drivers to pass my truck whenever it is practical, safe and lawful to do so. I’ll be waiting for you to pull forward, ideally well out of the lead threshold. Once you have done that, I will prepare to change to the lane next to mine on my right, signaling and checking my large mirror, the small convex mirrors and my direct sight lines on my right side for any traffic in that lane and then checking for vehicles moving into that lane from the next lane over.
If I begin to change one lane to my right at the same time as your move one lane to your left from close in front of my tractor, I should be able to see your approach and delay my move as necessary. Since you’re in front of my tractor and there is a chance that you won’t see my move in your mirrors, the responsibility for our safety lies primarily with me. Once you’ve completed your lane change, I’ll again be waiting for you to pull forward, ideally well out of the lead threshold before I move one lane to my right.
Another clearing option is for you to move one lane to your right from close in front of my tractor, returning to two lanes to the right of my lane. As you exit the risk zone, I will monitor your vehicle directly out my right side window and/or windshield. I’ll be hoping that you pull forward, ideally well out of the lead threshold so my subsequent lane change does not put you back in the risk zone (see the Risk Zone: Close in Front of My Truck and in the Right Lane Next to Mine and the Risk Zone: Close and Directly in Front of My Truck tips).
The lead threshold described above provides minimal protection from some action taken by you or a personal vehicle driver in front of us, such as slowing/stopping for a flat or blown tire, a small animal, road debris or other surface problem, or some disturbance inside the vehicle. In a more obvious emergency happening in front of us, there is a good possibility that I will have seen it (from my higher vantage point) and will have begun braking hard and preparing for evasive action simultaneously with you or perhaps earlier than you.
But the lead threshold is not always practical in light of current automobile performance and driver behavior in good weather and road conditions. For example the threshold is not easy to maintain in heavier traffic such as on multiple-lane city freeways. In those situations it is generally safer for me and other truck drivers to “go with the flow” at or close to traffic speed than to slow down significantly. Whether I’m in the right lane or in one of the lanes to the left, some drivers in passenger vehicles will still pass me on the left or right and then fill the space on my left, right or directly in front. In such conditions I am doing well if I can maintain a truck length (approximately 5 compact-size car lengths) of space in front of me across the 3 lanes, though I will constantly try to extend it.
If You Move Directly in Front of My Truck
If you’re two lanes to my right, close in front of my tractor (in front of the tractor’s bumper by a small number of compact-size car lengths) and you then move two lanes to your left directly in front of my tractor, you will be in one of the riskiest zones (see the Risk Zone: Close and Directly in Front of My Truck tip).
Many states post road signs illustrating how a vehicle passing another on the left is required to leave a safe distance in front of the passed vehicle before moving into its lane. Depending on how much space you have left in front of my truck, you may have violated this law even though you passed on the right. I will monitor your move directly out my tractor’s left side window and windshield and will keep close track of your vehicle so long as you stay close.
Once you’ve passed my truck, please, please do not slow down and settle in this zone! Depending on other traffic around us I will wait momentarily for you to pull away and if you don’t, I will slow down to let you get farther ahead and then resume my cruising speed (this burns extra fuel) or I will prepare to pass you. Preferably you will pull much farther away from my truck as soon as it’s safe and lawful to do so. This is a very important component of defensive driving: It will make both of us safer. You will have to pay less attention to my truck behind you and I will be able to pay less attention to your vehicle and more attention to other factors around my truck.