That Drives Me Nuts: A Trucker's Perspective
What things do cars do that annoy truckers the most?
The elevated cab of a Kenworth T2000 affords independent trucker Dennis Kutz an unobstructed view of the highway, and an opportunity to observe the behavior of thousands of civilian drivers swarming about him on the maze of freeways surrounding metro Chicago. He's often left shaking his head at the antics of those in "four wheelers."
"I see rudeness, impatience, and drivers who are just oblivious to their environment," says Kutz, an owner-operator who has logged more than two million miles in his 22-year driving career. "Just last week I had to slam on my brakes for a car that was moving at an erratic speed, the driver obviously was distracted. I got along side, and found a woman with a laptop open on the console, a cell phone in one hand, and a breast pump in the other. She was breast pumping while driving; that was a new one. It was crazy."
While Kutz's story is bizarre, it sadly isn't unique. Those of us who ride around on four wheels can be a very rude bunch. How many times have you been cut off by some inconsiderate driver on the freeway? Or almost run off the road by some pinhead talking on his cell phone? Well, long and short haul truckers, who spend much of lives on the road, experience these scenarios almost on a daily basis.
But what annoys truckers the most about car jockeys? To find out we asked the professionals at Schneider National, one of the nation's largest trucking companies, to put together a list of the five things they find most aggravating about car drivers. Here's what they said.
1. A car passes and then quickly cuts in front them, especially in construction zones.
"The truck driver is trying to maintain a safe following distance, and has left a gap between his rig and the vehicle in front of it," says Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety, security and training for Schneider National of Green Bay, Wis., one of the nation's largest trucking companies. "Cars see the gap and jump into the space because they don't want to be behind the truck. Consequently, the big rig has to slow down to create the gap again, only to see it filled by the next car. Now he's not traveling at a steady speed or a safe distance. Rear-end collisions are a common accident, especially in construction zones." Important facts to know: It takes an average passenger car traveling 55 mph 130 to 140 feet to stop. A loaded truck traveling at the same speed may take more than 400 feet to stop.
2. Car drivers aren't focusing on the road.
"Truck drivers see the effects of distracted driving all the time," Osterberg says. "Cars are weaving or don't maintain a steady speed because the driver is texting, eating, applying makeup or talking on a phone. Truck drivers are concerned with lane-keeping, and when a truck has to back off the throttle for a car that slows down, it loses momentum and then has to accelerate back up to speed, which wastes fuel."
3. Cars tailgate or draft their rigs to save fuel.
"There are some car drivers who are convinced that if they follow a truck closely enough, they will get better fuel mileage," Osterberg says. That's a mistake. The area right behind an 18-wheeler is just one of the blind spots that truckers call "no-drive zones." You want to steer clear of these areas, which include the space behind the truck and areas to the left and right of its cab, which may not be covered by the mirrors. "If you cannot see the driver's mirrors, he cannot see you," Osterberg says. If truck drivers can't see you, they can easily roll over you by accident.
4. A car traps them in the fast lane.
This happens when a truck moves to the left to accommodate merging traffic, for example, and then can't get back into the right lane because cars keep passing the slower-moving 18-wheeler on the right. Not only does this back up traffic behind the trailer, it also frustrates the trucker. Want to be a hero? Slow down in the right lane and give the trucker room to move over in front of you. You can signal that you are giving him the lane by quickly flashing your headlights, or blinking them off and on. After he completes the lane change, the truck driver will often blink the trailer taillights a few times, a signal that means, "Thanks for paying attention."
5. Cars prevent smooth merging.
A truck in the right lane often cannot move to the left for merging traffic at a highway on-ramp because another vehicle is already occupying the left lane. In this case, the truck either needs to speed up, which might not be possible, or slow down, which might not be safe if there is traffic directly behind. Here's another opportunity for car drivers to be aware. If you are about to pass a truck and you see that traffic is coming down the on-ramp, yield the left lane to the big rig and flash your lights to let the driver know the lane is clear. Give the truck a chance to be courteous and ensure a safe merge.
Veteran moto-journalist and Wisconsin-native Charles Plueddeman has been driving, riding and testing automobiles, motorcycles, boats, ATVs and snowmobiles for more than 20 years. He is a regular contributor to Boating Magazine and Outdoor Life, and his product evaluation articles have appeared in Popular Mechanics, Men's Journal, AutoWorld, Playboy, Boats.com and many other national publications and Web sites.
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Many years ago, I saw what can happen when you mix a small hatchback car (I think it might have been a Ford Pinto--they were still popular at the time--but it was kind of hard to tell, given the condition it was in), a couple of semi trucks, and an icy freeway. It was ugly. I have been more than cautious around big rigs ever since. I was taught in Driver Ed to not only check my blind spots when merging into freeway traffic or passing any vehicle (the head-check where you have to turn your head around and look back over your shoulder, not just relying on your mirrors--it's amazing how many drivers don't do this), but also, in order to avoid cutting in too close, to check the rearview mirror one last time to make sure that you can see the whole front end (not just the grille) of the vehicle you just passed before getting back into the other lane. With trucks I take the time to give them some extra room. On freeways, if I can't make the pass without missing my exit, I just wait it out behind them in the right lane. (If I'm that close to my exit, are those extra 2 or 3 seconds really going to matter?) On two-lane roads, I try not to pass trucks at all unless I'm absolutely sure that there's plenty of room for me to do this (translation: a long enough passing zone on a fairly level road and a truck that's not going very fast to start with). If I really don't want to be behind the truck, I can always take an alternate route.
Here is a simple solution for most of the headaches.... Stay right except to pass! If your in the left lane PASS! if not... Move to right! If I pass you and im in the left lane, dont think of it as a wake up call to go faster, so I then have to get back behind you for you to do it again a mile later! If I start to pass you just let me get by! Ive been driving now for 18yrs and I hate to get anywhere near someones bumper... but.... when I catch you 2 or more time and I try to pass just to have you speed up on me... Im gonna just ride your **** the next time to wake you up!