Tractor-Trailer Tailgating (© age fotostock / SuperStock)Click to enlarge picture

Tractor-trailer in mirror tailgating car.

While it's true that car drivers can be boorish, truckers are far from innocent in the asphalt interplay between four- and 18-wheelers. They are frequently the source of aggravation and even fear for plenty of car drivers.

When MSN Contributing Editor Chuck Tannert was a kid, his family was involved in a disturbing incident with an out of control trucker on a spring break trip to Williamsburg, Va. "My family was driving down I-95 somewhere in New jersey," recalls Tannert, "when a trucker got right up against our Oldsmobile's rear bumper. My father, a cautious driver and one that did most of his business travel at the time in his car, was already driving 10 mph over the speed limit. Before he could pull into the left lane to let the rig pass, the trucker pulled into to the left to pass us. But before his rear wheels had completely passed the front of our car, the trucker jerked back into the right lane, pushing us off the road. Luckily, we were all fine."

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The trucker continued to terrorize the Tannert family for 20 miles, until they reached a toll booth, where they let highway officials know what was happening. "When the guy saw what was happening, he jumped out of the cab, had to pull and button up his pants as he did, and started yelling at the toll booth officials and our car," says Tannert. "It was a disgrace."

While Tannert's experience is a rare, it does happen. (Check out this YouTube video if you want proof). Truckers say the issue is often one of awareness, that most car owners simply don't understand the challenges faced by a truck driver tasked with wrangling a 65-foot-long vehicle that can weigh 80,000 pounds. We say that doesn't excuse homicidal behavior.

So what annoys you most about truckers? To find out, we asked Dr. William Van Tassel, who holds a PhD in safety education and is manager of driver training programs for AAA, to put together a list of the five things car drivers find most aggravating about sharing the road with big rigs. Here's what he had to say.

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1. A trucker tailgates.
There's nothing like having your rear window filled with a massive Peterbilt grille. And if trucks have a longer stopping distance than cars, why don't they back off? Truth is that many truckers get a bonus for achieving fuel-economy goals. Keeping a steady speed is the best way for a truck to get its best fuel economy. So truckers hate to have to slow down.

It's up to you to control the situation, says Dr. Van Tassel. "Just as if the tailgater was a car or a motorcycle, the other driver obviously wants to go faster than you are traveling. The simple solution is to make a lane change to the right, which allows you to reset the situation behind you. And usually the other driver will appreciate your move. Slowing down or tapping your brakes is not a good alternative. In a collision with a large truck, you will lose." If you can't move right, pull over and let the bigger vehicle go by.

2. A truck's tires seem to explode when driving down the road.
Technically, the tires aren't exploding. They are losing their treads. Truckers call these separated tread sections "gators," and they are usually caused by an underinflated tire that overheats and then falls apart. The same thing happens to an underinflated car tire. There's just more opportunity for it to happen to a truck with 18 wheels that's also often heavily loaded. Unfortunately, there's not much you can do here, except to drive around it. If it's small, you might be able to drive over it.

3. Big trucks spray water all over the place, blinding everyone around them.
It happens all the time, and it seems inexcusable, especially when we find out that heavy trucks in the United Kingdom and other European Union countries are required to have spray-mitigation devices. However, a 2003 study commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that spray-reduction devices available at the time had little effect on trailers pulled by modern, aerodynamic tractors.

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The situation so frustrated veteran truck driver Barry Andersen that he invented a solution: EcoFlaps. They have a meshlike texture that collects mist, allowing it to form larger droplets that fall to the pavement. More dramatic spray mitigation may happen by accident. By 2013, all long trailers used in California and neighboring states will be equipped with skirts that, along with other measures, are supposed to improve fuel economy. The skirts, according to Dan Crowder of manufacturer Transtex Composites, have a side benefit of reducing spray on wet roads.

In the meantime, Van Tassel of the AAA says car drivers should make sure they have good wiper blades and drive with the headlights on in the rain. "If the truck is passing you, back off and let them complete the pass more quickly," Van Tassel says. "If you are passing the truck, wait until you've got a clear path to get all the way past the truck before you attempt the pass, so you don't get stuck right next to the trailer. On two-lane roads, put your wipers on high speed before you meet an approaching truck."

4. One truck pulls over to pass the other, and then they run together, blocking two lanes.
Truckers call this an "elephant race," Kutz says, and it usually happens because one truck does not have enough power to complete the pass. If the passing truck is heavily loaded and encounters an incline midpass, it may just slow down. Of course, the truck in the right lane could back off and let him by. But that does not seem to be part of the trucking culture, whether it's due to ego or the pursuit of fuel economy. "Don't assume there's any malice on the part of the truck drivers," Van Tassel says. "These guys are too busy to mess with the public. It's best to just relax and wait it out." Or call the phone number on the trailer door and give their bosses a piece of your mind.

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5. Trucks don't slow down when it's snowing.
The weight of a loaded truck and its relatively narrow tires make it much less likely than a car to hydroplane on wet or snowy roads. Truckers are often on a tight delivery schedule, and if they don't have to slow down, many won't, even if they are rolling 20 mph faster than cars on the same road. Traffic experts agree this speed differential can be very dangerous and can unnerve car drivers who may already be white-knuckling it through traffic.

Your best bet is to focus on your driving and let the truck go on by, Van Tassel says. "You don't want to be around if the trucker loses control." Later on, you might have the satisfaction of passing him after he plows into a snow-filled ditch. It's karma.

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, and many other national publications and Web sites.