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How to safely share the highway with semis

Self-driving big-rig technology moving quickly down the on-ramp
Self-driving trucks likek this one may one day dominate the road, and their issues add a layer of complexity to the equation. Regardless of how they’re driven, they require other drivers’ attention.
(Daimler Trucks North America / Tribune News Service)

Your trip starts out great. You’re on the road. You’re free. You’re...surrounded by semi-trucks.

It takes a certain set of smarts and an etiquette to navigate big bunches of big rigs. Here is some of what you need to know.

►Start by remembering that you might be headed on vacation, but those truck drivers are working, hauling goods across America’s highways and interstates. The average trucker drives hundreds of miles on any given day. That’s thousands of miles per week and more than 100,000 miles a year spent behind the wheel.

►Remember that these behemoths mean you must (not just should) observe regular driving etiquette. That means not tailgating, signaling when you change lanes and amplifying it. After all, if a 4,000-pound car collides with a big rig 20 times its weight, the outcome is in little doubt. That’s why tractor-trailer accidents are often deadly.

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►Then there are caution and courtesy. Avoid semis, if you can, said Joe Giammona, president of the Sacramento-based California Trucking Assn. “Don’t hang out alongside a truck — pass it,” he said.

►When passing or driving next to a semi, avoid the truck’s blind spots. Make sure to keep yourself visible.

“There’s an...adage: ‘If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you,’ and there’s a lot of truth to that,” Giammona said.

Are we recreational vehicle people? Hell, yeah! »

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►Make sure to give yourself plenty of space when driving in front of or behind a large truck.

Semis require more distance than a car to stop safely so truck drivers intentionally keep a significant distance between their vehicle and the one in front of them.

But, trucker say, drivers of four-wheeled vehicles see that gap as an opportunity to change lanes and try to get ahead, especially in stop-and-go traffic.

“It puts people at risk,” said Santiago Rodriguez, director of America Truck Driving School, which helps students earn their commercial driving licenses with locations in Riverside, Santa Ana, Compton and Escondio.

►Yield to large trucks when merging onto a freeway, Giammona said.

►Don’t even think about drafting. Tailgating, also known as drafting, involves driving closely behind an 18-wheeler to reduce air resistance and get better gas mileage.

“I think that’s a ridiculous notion,” Giammona said.

Plus, if you tailgate a semi, you’re shortening the time you have to react if the trucker needs to brake, Rodriguez said.

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►Their turns take more room to accommodate the trailer the semi is pulling. Although there may be a gap to turn next to them, truckers say that extra space is needed to maneuver.

There’s also a great deal of weight and momentum coming around that corner — something a car doesn’t want to risk hitting.

“Don’t try to squeeze in there,” said Rodriguez, who worked as a long-distance trucker for about 10 years.


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