Could a New Federal Speed-Cap Rule Make Driving Near Trucks Safer?


In an effort to reduce the number of annual traffic fatalities, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have proposed a new rule to equip heavy-duty vehicles with a device that would cap their max speed. Administrators claim the proposed rule would reduce fuel costs and the number of accidents involving heavy-duty vehicles each year, but until it is implemented drivers of passenger cars are in particular danger if they don’t properly share the road.

Heavy-duty trucks and buses travel billions of miles each year, transporting goods and people from one location to another. For all those miles one might think they are involved in a higher percentage of all the car accidents that occur each year, but of the six million car accidents that happened in 2014, only 476,000 involved large trucks and buses, according to FMCSA.

That said, these crashes were found to be particularly devastating for those not driving the heavy-duty vehicles. In fatal crashes involving large vehicles, seven out of 10 people killed were the driver or passenger of the other vehicle.

Through capping the speed at somewhere between 60 and 68 MPH, the NHTSA and FMCSA rule could cut down on the number of accidents and fatalities involving heavy-duty vehicles. Estimates by current administrators at these organizations claim the rule could save more than $1 billion in fuel costs each year, and anywhere from 27 to almost 500 lives annually.

Even with such measures, there are still things motor vehicle drivers can do to safely share the road with heavy-duty vehicles.

Avoid ‘No Zones’

Unlike passenger cars, which have small blind spots that are easy to avoid, heavy-duty vehicles have large blind spots in the front, back and on the sides of the vehicle. These “no zones,” as they are sometimes called, extend from the back of the vehicle for 30 feet, from the front of the vehicle for 20 feet, and on the sides of the vehicle in the area immediately behind the driver, according to the FMCSA.

The golden rule when driving near a large truck or bus is, if you can’t see the driver in the vehicle’s mirror, assume the river is unable to see you, according to the FMCSA. If while driving, you do find yourself in a no zone, slow down or speed up, traffic conditions permitting, to get yourself out of the blind spot.

Allow for Extra Space When Passing

Because blind spots on large vehicles are so extensive, drivers of passenger cars must take extra care when passing them. First and foremost, a passenger car should never pass a large vehicle from the right lane.

If you are behind a heavy-duty vehicle make sure you are not in the blind spot behind the vehicle before signaling and accelerating into the left lane. Once there, move quickly and efficiently past the truck, and avoid lingering in the blind spot. Before completing your pass and moving back into the right lane, make sure you can see the truck in your rearview so that when you do re-enter the right lane you will not be in the vehicle’s frontal blind spot.

Watch Out for Wide Turns

Due to their size, heavy-duty vehicles can not make turns as efficiently as passenger cars. Large vehicles, like a tractor trailer, may require a turning radius of up to 55 feet, which can make the turn dangerous for smaller vehicles in the vicinity.

For instance, when a tractor trailer makes a right turn it may swing wide leading up to the turn to better navigate it. When the driver swings wide, you may be tempted to dart into the space opened up between the trailer and the curb in order to pass the large vehicle. This is extremely dangerous because you are entering a blind spot, and are at risk of an accident when the tractor trailer driver completes the wide swing and looks to reoccupy the space your car may have entered.

Remember: These Vehicles Take a While to Stop

Cutting off another vehicle is always dangerous, but doing it to a heavy-duty vehicle is extra dangerous. Buses and trucks take up to 40 percent longer to stop than smaller vehicles, and if they are on the highway traveling 65 MPH or more, it could take them up to the length of two football fields to stop, according to the FMCSA.

If you are driving behind a heavy-duty vehicle, you are also in danger if you get too close. If you don’t stay back the recommended 30 feet, you are not only in a “no zone,” but you are at risk of sliding under the raised truck if you can’t slow down fast enough or get rear ended, according to the FMCSA. Similarly, if you are stopped at an incline in the road and you are too close, you are at risk of being crushed if the vehicle rolls backwards.

Ultimately, staying safe when sharing the road with heavy-duty vehicles comes down to, at least to some degree, common sense and respect. Your car is small and trucks and buses are very large, and because of their size you’ve got to be careful around them. The most important thing to remember is keep your distance, and move quickly and carefully if you do need to pass, experts say.

If you would like to learn more about truck accidents please visit our truck accident information page.