Motor Carrier Safety

Large trucks and other motor carriers are a vital part of the nation's economy, and are a large portion of the traffic on the nation's crowded roads and highways. Read on to find out more about how trucks differ from other vehicles and how to share the road safely.

How Are Large Trucks Different From Passenger Vehicles?

  • Large trucks weigh more than 10,000 pounds. They can be either a single-unit vehicle or a combination vehicle consisting of single-unit truck or tractor pulling one or more trailers.
  • While trucks and buses have more powerful engines than cars, they must also pull much more weight. A heavy truck may need 10 gear changes to reach the speed limit, and may take twice as much time and distance as a car to stop.
  • Trucks require a much greater stopping distance than cars. The heavier the truck, the greater the distance needed to stop. A passenger vehicle traveling at 55 mph can stop in about 130 to 140 feet. A large truck traveling at the same speed can take up to 400 feet to stop.
  • "No zones" are the danger areas around large trucks where crashes are more likely to occur. Some no zones are actually blind spots or areas around trucks where your passenger vehicle disappears from the truck driver's view. These blind spots around large trucks are on the left and right sides, and immediately in front and back. For more information, visit the No Zone Campaign - Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website.
  • Truck drivers must carry a commercial driver's license issued by their home state. States issue the licenses only after truck drivers pass tests that demonstrate extensive driving knowledge and skills. Bus operators and hazardous materials drivers must pass additional tests.

Safety Tips for Drivers Sharing the Road with Large Trucks

  • Drivers of large trucks and buses enjoy a better forward view and have larger side mirrors, but remember they also have more and larger blind spots. Avoid staying in one of their blind spots--if you can't see the driver in his or her side mirror, the driver probably can't see you.
  • Tailgating is always dangerous, but tailgating a large truck or bus is especially dangerous. Not only does this reduce your ability to see what's happening on the road ahead, but the driver of the truck or bus can't see you. Keep a safe distance when following.
  • Don't cut in front of a large truck just because you see open space there. The driver is leaving enough room to brake safely. If you reduce this braking distance, you may be forcing the driver behind you to make a difficult choice: either brake hard (possibly causing problems such as jackknifing), or risk rear-ending your vehicle.
  • Maintain a consistent speed when passing a large truck. When you can see the entire front of the truck or bus in your rearview mirror, make a shoulder check, signal and return to the right lane.
  • Never pass a bus or truck on the right side. This is the side with the largest blind spot. If the larger vehicle needs to move to the right, he or she may not see you in time to avoid a collision.
  • Trucks and buses take more time and need greater distances than cars to speed up, maneuver, and stop. When driving near a large vehicle, signal your intentions early so the truck or bus driver has enough time to react safely.
  • If you're driving down a hill ahead of a large vehicle that is fast approaching, speed up a little, if it's safe to do so, to keep a safe distance between your vehicles. The truck or bus driver may be trying to slow down safely without losing the momentum needed to climb the next hill at a reasonable speed.
  • Leave plenty of space when coming to a stop behind a large vehicle on an incline. Heavy vehicles can roll back as much as 15 feet (4.5 meters) when the driver's foot is taken off the brake to accelerate.
  • On many highways with three or more lanes, large vehicles are not allowed to use the far left lane, even for passing slower vehicles. When a large vehicle is following you in a center lane, give it the opportunity to pass by moving to the right lane.
  • Sometimes large vehicles must swing wide to turn safely. They'll swing right for a left turn and left for a right turn. Watch their turn signals and give them room to maneuver. Never drive between a turning truck or bus and the side of the road--your car could get stuck between the large vehicle and the curb.
  • Never cross behind a truck that is preparing to back up or is backing up. Remember, most tractor-trailers are eight-and-a-half feet wide and can hide a passenger vehicle completely, preventing the truck driver from seeing your vehicle.
  • Larger vehicles create more air turbulence at highway speeds. When approaching, keep a steady grip on your steering wheel.
  • Truck and bus wheels spray a lot of rain and slush. When the road is wet, turn on your windshield wipers when approaching trucks and buses so you'll be able to see more clearly at all times.

Safety Tips for Drivers of Large Trucks

  • You are the most important part of a moving truck or bus. Get plenty of rest before getting behind the wheel, eat well, and stay fit. Remember, hours of service violations are serious and can threaten your livelihood and your life. Take frequent safety breaks such as stretching and breathing deeply, or get out and walk around. If you are feeling drowsy, stop and have some coffee or soup, but don't drive.
  • Inspect your vehicle before each trip and check your brakes regularly. This should include checking tire pressure and condition, brake and all other fluids, lights and turn signals, as well as making sure that windshields are clean, and mirrors are clean and adjusted properly.
  • Buckle up for safety and control. If you are in a crash, a seat belt can save your life and those around you. It will keep you in your seat and allow you to maintain control of your vehicle.
  • Other drivers may not be aware of the size of your truck's blind spots. Be vigilant in watching out for vehicles in the No-Zone. The No-Zone represents the danger areas, or blind spots, around trucks and buses where crashes are more likely to occur. One-third of all crashes between large trucks and cars take place in the No-Zone.
  • Watch out for highway construction. Stay alert. Work zone crashes are more likely to happen during the day. Almost one-third of fatal crashes in work zones involved large trucks. Take your time going through work zones and give yourself plenty of room. Expect the unexpected!
  • Always leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front of you. If you hit someone from behind, you are typically considered "at fault," regardless of the situation. Large trucks require more stopping distances than other vehicles. Take advantage of your driving height, and anticipate braking situations.