Passing Me Basics

Last Edited: July 19, 2019 // by TruckerScape, Inc.

Reminders

As advised in Risk Zone and Caution Zone tips, the first important reminder is not to dawdle behind or alongside my truck in any of the risk zones, but to get on by briskly when practical, safe and lawful to do so.  You should not stay longer than necessary in any risk zone because if you’re in one of them and either of us has an emergency or accident, there is a good chance the other will be involved.  Moreover, in these zones you hamper or limit the maneuvers I can make to avoid hazards and prevent accidents.

When you prepare to pass my truck, you might elect to pull up to, or slightly within the “one second” following distance before swinging into the lane to my left (or in some situations the lane to my right).  Hopefully this maneuver will discourage any impatient drivers close behind you from “jumping” you (speeding up close behind me and then squeezing in front of you before you get alongside my truck).  For more following details see the Following Me tip.

The second important reminder is not to forget that if you’re close in front of my truck, either in my lane or the lane to my left or right, you’re still in a risk zone.  For more information about potential hazards in these three positions see the following tips:  Risk Zone:  Close and Directly in Front of My Truck, Risk Zone:  Close in Front of My Truck and in the Left Lane Next to Mine and Risk Zone:  Close in Front of My Truck and in the Right Lane Next to Mine.  Following is a review of what I mean by close:

Definitions of “Close” and “Lead Threshold”

By “close” in front of my truck 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 you take.

In any situations in which you brake hard or even moderately within this risk zone, there is a possibility of a rear end collision with you.  To avoid a collision, first I have to notice your braking, and your brake lights don’t tell me the rate at which you’re slowing or stopping.  Once I’ve seen your brake lights (or noticed your slowing if your lights don’t work), I will immediately brake moderately and then hard if I see I am closing on you.  If I see you slowing drastically I will look for an “out,” a maneuver to avoid colliding with your vehicle.  That generally means a lane change or steering onto a highway shoulder.

Now imagine this process happening at 60 mph within 2 to 4 seconds (I have somewhat longer than the 2 second lead threshold assuming you don’t stop instantly).  This is not enough time for me to do a lot, considering it takes about 1/10 of a mile (500 feet) to stop my fully loaded truck from 60 mph in good road and weather conditions and much less distance to stop your personal vehicle.  So I think we should treat this 2 second lead threshold as our practical basic minimum on the open road (typically on interstates or major highways with two or more lanes in each direction, in sparse traffic, usually in rural areas) at highway speeds.  Anything less definitely increases your risk.  Ideally you should stay well outside the lead threshold to minimize your risk.

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.  Hopefully you will comply when passing my truck on the left.  It is also very important that you leave a safe distance when passing on my right and even when remaining in the lane to my left or right after passing.

Once you’ve passed my truck, please, please do not slow down and settle close in front of my truck in my lane or the lane to my left or right!  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.

Exceptions

The lead threshold and collision avoidance maneuvering described above provide 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 personal 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.

An extreme example of heavy traffic is the New York City area.  Construction zones and accidents periodically cause stop-and-go and slow-and-go traffic conditions on all highways and surface streets, but heavy congestion on New York City expressways and streets is more the rule.  NYC speeds on highways and streets are necessarily slower and there is a lot of close quarters driving.  Drivers routinely pass with little or no lead threshold.  There is definitely more of an “every man for himself” atmosphere that NYC personal vehicle drivers take in stride if not thrive in.  I drive in “high alert” mode there.

In some open road situations on two-lane highways (in sparse traffic, usually in rural areas) I slow down to let personal vehicles pass more easily, but bear in mind that my job is to drive as fast as I can safely and lawfully.  My truck’s top cruising speed is limited to 65 mph (miles per hour).  Your personal vehicle can usually accelerate past me safely and lawfully.  My truck loses significant momentum when I slow down, and it takes time and extra fuel to get back to my former speed.  So to enable you to pass without help from me, I would rather wait for some traffic or road condition such as a traffic stop light, a grade that my truck will lug down on, a passing lane or a straight stretch of highway clear of oncoming traffic.  (I do watch your pass closely in case I have to slow down to let you in front of me before oncoming traffic arrives.)

As a courtesy to faster truck drivers, I let them pass on stretches of two-lane highway clear of oncoming traffic by slowing down slightly and/or pulling onto the right shoulder.  They need help since their trucks can’t accelerate as quickly as personal vehicles.

Takeaways

Stay behind a truck by at least one second of travel and preferably two until you prepare to pass.

Once you’ve passed a truck on the open road, maintain a lead distance of at least two seconds of travel ahead of it whenever possible, whether you return to its lane or remain in the lane to its left or right.

Your two second minimum lead distance may not be practical in heavier traffic such as on multiple-lane city freeways.

As a general rule, move out of all risk zones around a truck as soon as it is practical, safe and lawful to do so.

When behind a truck on a two-lane highway, wait for a safe opportunity to pass it.

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