Friday, November 9, 2012

Changing Lanes Safely

You can't just move a semi-truck over whenever you want.  You have to plan ahead and make your move without needing help.  When you do need help, you often have to rely on the vehicles around you, most of which don't understand and don't care about your need to change lanes.  I change lanes for various reasons, and most of the time it's just because I have to.  It's rarely for fun.
First you must understand why trucks usually stay in the right lane.  A truck's main blind spot is on its right side, and the drivers of trucks don't want to chance accidents, which makes them some of the safest vehicles on the road.  Every year the safety industries release the numbers on the safety of trucks versus everyone else and trucks routinely are the safest vehicles on the highway.

When you minimize the chance of vehicles being in the area that you can't see, you reduce the chance of accidents.  Since before I was born, trucks have had stickers on their trailers that say "passing side" with an arrow pointing to the driver's side, and "suicide" with an arrow pointing to the passenger side.

As a semi-truck driver, you spend most of your time in the right lane, on the same side of the shoulder of the highway where most people pull onto when their vehicles break down, or if they're pulled over for a traffic violation.  Since trucks stay in the right lane, they must always be on the lookout for patrol cars and disabled vehicles on the shoulder.  When a truck is approaching the obstacle on the shoulder it must either move over, slow down, or both.  One of the most dangerous maneuvers a driver makes is merely moving from one lane to another. 

To further complicate this lane change, there may be traffic and obstacles ahead that the traffic behind the truck can't see.  Usually, when I'm moving over to avoid an upcoming hazard, there are vehicles speeding up from behind; they rarely want to wait for me to move into the left lane.  They don't know why, or they don't care why, I'm moving over and slowing down. 

Occasionally there's a cautious driver who recognizes what I'm attempting to do, and lets me have time to do what I need to.  Since everyone is in such a hurry to get from point A to point B these days, it's rare to see cautious drivers on the road.  I'll go into a rather lengthy post about that topic on another day. 

Many times when I move into the left lane to avoid an obstacle or situation on the shoulder, hurried traffic simply maintains their speed, blowing by me on the right.  This creates an even greater hazard, having a vehicle speeding in the right lane between an obstacle on the shoulder and a semi-truck in the left lane.  The trick is to control your environment.  You can't stop the people behind you, and you can't explain to them what you're seeing in front of you, but you can keep them guessing and leery of the big semi-truck in front of them.

As soon as you identify the hazard, you must look at the traffic behind you and around you.  After you've done this, you must decide which action to take.  Much of the time I just slow down, use my turn signal, and move over, but when I see vehicles behind me speeding up to pass on the right, I'll start to move back over into the right lane, straddling the center stripe until I pass the hazard.  This keeps them in a safer place than if they were to try to squeeze by me.  I then begin to move back into the right lane as soon as I have passed the hazard on the shoulder, leaving the vehicle behind me having to move into the left lane.

This strategy rarely fails and has resulted in safe passing of shoulder hazards time and again.  And since it's worked for over a decade and a half now, I think I'm going to stick with it.


june in florida said...

You say the main blind spot is on the left side, i would have thought the right side.How much can you see in the side mirror? I realize you don't have something i cant drive without, the rear mirror.

elh said...

Does that camera set up that you have help with the blind spots??

Scott said...

Ed-- When you make a turn or change lanes, do you notice any difference in the load shifting around with that flabed from a van? I assume you gotta watch the load on all turns.

Ed said...

June: I am so busy trying to make sure my grammar and spelling are correct, I can't believe I missed that! Of course it's the right side! Thank you for catching that. I have fixed it.

ELH: Yes, the cameras do help greatly, especially in high traffic areas and when it's dark because of the night vision.

Scott: With the flatbed, you get to see your freight, so you can secure each piece of freight individually. This makes freight shifting on the flatbed a lot less likely than in a van trailer. Also, most of the time with vans, you're not even loading your own freight - or they're pre-loaded and you just pick them up.

When I'm getting loaded, I'm constantly directing the forklift drivers, and I'm in control of what goes where on my trailer. Then, along the way, I can adjust the secure meant if necessary, as sometimes the vibrations loosen straps, etc. In a van, you don't even know what's going on inside.

There are a few flat bad loads I've had where I've had to be careful changing lanes, making turns, using on/off ramps, etc. but being able to see the freight is a huge plus.

You just gave me a great idea for a post. Thanks!