Risk Zone Pluses and Minuses
There are pluses and minuses for you in this risk zone extending from the trailer tail to the tandems in their full forward position. On the plus side, you may feel secure in this position because you are able to see the road ahead of my truck reasonably well and are out of the path of debris thrown rearward from my trailer tires. The midships (middle) trailer turn signal/emergency flasher light should be readily visible to you. You may know that you usually show up well in my large left mirror. Your vehicle’s image also remains in the small convex mirror below my large left mirror and in the small convex mirror over my left fender.
However if you stay in this risk zone, you block me from changing lanes to the left. For routine situations such as emergency vehicles or highway maintenance equipment and personnel, or other vehicles and people on the right shoulder, I may have to slow down markedly if you don’t slow down and let me into your lane.
In wet or snowy weather your vehicle may still be hit by water or snow thrown sideways from my trailer tandems and by blowback from the front of my truck. These may obscure your view of the road ahead and my view of you. Also your vehicle may be hit by shrapnel thrown sideways from a trailer tire blowout. It is generally best to move out of this and other risk zones alongside my truck as soon as it is practical, safe and lawful to do so.
Of all the risk zones in which you are alongside some section of my tractor and trailer, this one offers one of the better chances for a safe outcome in an emergency. This is because I can see you well (provided you have your headlights or at least running lights turned on in sloppy road conditions) and our relative speeds may enable us to get out of each other’s way fairly quickly.
Changing Lanes to My Left
On the open road (typically on interstates or major highways with two or more lanes in each direction, in sparse traffic, usually in the countryside), if my speed is greater than yours I may be able to take evasive action by swerving into your lane ahead of you. You can facilitate this maneuver by recognizing the emergency and braking hard. If your speed is greater, you will be moving forward toward the front of my truck and becoming more of an obstacle. Unless you recognize the situation and react quickly, I will have to brake hard to let you get all the way past the front of my truck before changing into your lane.
Accident Averted and Lives Saved
The direst emergency I have had to deal with occurred on a beautiful summer day. I was driving around 5 mph (miles per hour) under the speed limit in the right lane on an interstate where construction had recently been completed. I was trapped in front by a line of slow moving personal vehicles (seemingly tourists) and in the left lane by a slow moving pickup truck followed closely by another big rig. The big rig’s driver obviously wanted to pass the pickup.
As they reached an exit ramp curving off to the right, all vehicles ahead of me took it and I began accelerating to get free of the pickup and to enable the big rig to get around the pickup via the right lane. Suddenly out of the line of exiting vehicles a van pulled crosswise into the right lane ahead of me. Apparently the van driver had changed his/her mind about exiting and somehow managed to make a U-turn back to the interstate.
Unfortunately the van was only about 150 feet ahead of me. There was no shoulder space to miss it on the right and no hope of braking hard enough to dampen a collision that would crush the driver’s side of the van and kill or critically injure the occupants. I did not have time to check on the pickup in the left lane and signal a left lane change, but knew I was moving past it. I swerved into the left lane hoping that a sideways collision with the pickup would be less serious and possibly avoided if both trucks in the left lane braked hard enough. Luckily a collision was averted—the van stopped in the right lane as I sped past its front and the pickup and big rig were able to brake behind my truck in the left lane. As I slowed down with flashers on to check the trucks behind me, the van sped on past in the right lane with no apparent gesture of apology or appreciation from the driver.
In addition to the speed differential between my truck and the pickup and good weather and road conditions, my trailer was lightly loaded (with insulation). I don’t know if the pickup and big rig drivers saw the van pull out in front of me, but they did a great job of braking for me. All these factors made the drastic life-saving maneuver successful.
If you find that the exit ramp you are taking is not the one you want, I hope you will continue on it to the highway or surface street the ramp intersects with, then find a place to turn around so you can return to the interstate safely on an entrance ramp. You may very well save yourself and your passengers as well as other drivers and their passengers behind you from injury or death.
When in this risk zone, stay ready to brake in case the truck driver needs to move left into your lane.
Settling in this risk zone exposes you to road splash, snow blowback and blown tire fragments as well as possible collision in an emergency.
As a general rule, move out of this and all other risk zones around a truck as soon as it is practical, safe and lawful to do so.