How to Not Get Killed by 18 Wheelers on the Road


If you've seen Stephen Spielberg's Duel, which centers around a man in his car engaged in a terrifying 90-minute struggle against a faceless, anonymous trucker with homicidal road rage, then you've already got this one in the bag. If you haven't seen it, you should do so ASAP, but hopefully you're still fully aware that 18 wheelers can do some serious damage if the driver loses control. Carrying payloads as high as 80,000lb, tractor trailers can take over five times longer than your car to come to a full stop. And while truck drivers have specialized training to control such behemoths, the most dangerous aspect is the one they can't control: four wheelers, i.e. you and me.

I checked with a couple of guys who earn their living driving trucks, and as you might imagine, there are lots of mistakes that careless drivers make when they're sharing the road with an 18 wheeler. Here's how to make sure you're not one of them.

1. Get. Out. Of. Their. Freaking. Huge. Blind spot.

You know those warning labels on the back of trailers that mention large blind spots? They’re not there for your amusement. If a trucker can’t see you, and doesn’t realize you’re there, a sudden lane change could be the last thing you ever see.

2. Always remember: the left lane is for passing only

It’s not “the fast lane;” it’s the passing lane. After you pass someone, get back over to the right so if someone (say, an enormous 18 wheeler) comes up behind you, you’re not forcing them to pass you on the right. It’s not only the polite thing to do; it’s the legal thing to do.

3. If you pass a truck, don’t slow down immediately afterwards

Once you've passed and gotten back into the right lane, for the love of God, maintain your speed. Otherwise you force the trucker to slow down, which at 80,000 pounds isn’t exactly easy, and it takes a lot more time and energy (read: fuel) to get back up to speed.

4. Don’t cut off a truck in order to make an exit

Don't cut off a truck in general, but a particular pet peeve is when you swerve upon realizing you’re about to miss your exit. Part of being a good driver is planning ahead. Truckers do it, and when you cut one off, you’re changing their plans drastically. Even if there’s not a trucker right behind you, you’re gonna piss someone off. Go on to the next exit.

5. When a driver does you a solid, get out of his or her way

If you’ve ever been about to get on a highway and spotted a rig in the right lane, only to find it’s moved over by the time you’re ready to merge, that’s because the driver saw you and gave you room. Make sure you speed up or slow down to let them back into the right lane.

6. Use trucker code to say "thank you"

When someone holds the door for you, you say “thank you.” Thank a trucker by turning your hazards on for a second or two, or by signaling left-right-left-right. You’ll stand out as one of the rare four wheelers who gets it. Courtesy: pass it on.

7. Use trucker code to say "go ahead"

You’re basically a tiny, two-dimensional object in a trucker’s mirror. So for them to know whether the back of their trailer is clear of your front bumper takes experience and really good guesswork. Signal to the driver that he or she has enough room to get in front of you by 1) turning your headlights on and off if it’s during the day, or 2) turning them off and back on if it’s at night. (Yes it's illegal to drive with your lights off at night, but there’s not a cop on the road that doesn’t know exactly what you’re doing -- and that it’s a good thing.)

Either way, never flash your brights as a signal, especially at night, since the glare can blind drivers if they’re looking in their mirror.

8. Let them pass in front of you

Yeah, maybe you’re going a little faster than them. But you’re dealing with someone that’s literally in a race against the clock to make a delivery on time, and trying to find another 60ft gap in traffic might take a while. So when you see a truck put on its blinker, back off, flash your lights, and let them in. They’ll flash their hazards to say thank you, and you'll feel cool for knowing the secret trucker code.

9. Don’t drive too close...

These guys are pros with a hell of a lot more training behind the wheel than 99% of the population, but they’re not exactly driving sports cars. They’re focused on keeping their rig going down the highway in a straight line... and between the lines. The last thing they need is to worry about you knocking into the trailer.

10. Especially if it’s a hazardous, wide, or otherwise dangerous load

Remember that scene in Final Destination? Of course you do. 

11. Don’t cross a double yellow to pass

This should be obvious, because it’s the law, people. But especially when you're on a hill of significant gradient, truckers don’t have much choice in how fast they go -- they’re literally hauling already. They don’t want to go slow any more than you do, and the last thing they need is you darting out from behind them -- where you can’t see what’s coming up ahead of you, and you have no escape route if something goes awry.

12. Realize that turning is exceedingly difficult

At some point in your life, you probably got into a car that wasn’t yours, and was just a little bit longer than what you're used to, and you didn’t re-calculate all the turning geometry in your head before... curb check. To get a semi-trailer around a right turn, a driver has to first swing to the left. Somehow “normal” drivers don’t understand this concept and routinely swing around to the right and get in their way. The technical term for this is called being a dick. Don’t be a dick. Let the truck turn.

Aaron Miller is the Cars editor for Thrillist, and can be found on Twitter. He actually used the phrase "southbound and down" in conversation last week.

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