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Accidents between tractor-trailers and passenger cars generally spell bad news for the passenger car. As a reminder of the severity of these types of collision, just last week, a 21 year old newlywed young woman was killed in an accident with a tractor-trailer on I-285 in Atlanta. According to officials, the driver of the truck struck the woman’s vehicle while attempting to change lanes. The vehicle spun out of control, striking a guardrail and then crossing the highway, where it was struck by the cab of another tractor-trailer, which caused it to flip and land on its side. The truck driver, a 51-year old man, was arrested and charged with second degree vehicular homicide and improper lane change.

Data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration paint a more complete picture of just how common—and deadly—accidents involving large trucks can be. In 2008, accidents involving large trucks caused 4,229 fatalities. That amounts to 11% of all traffic fatalities reported in that year, or one out of ever nine traffic fatalities for the year. Another 90,000 people suffered injuries as a result of those accidents. The deaths that result from crashes with large trucks overwhelming affect the occupants of the smaller vehicle—a full 74% of the fatalities involved occupants of another vehicle.

Of course, we don’t need to statistics to tell us what we already know: accidents between passenger cars and large trucks can be disastrous. Unfortunately, some tractor-trailer accidents—like the one that just occurred in Atlanta—are unpreventable from the perspective of the passenger car driver. Improving truck driver safety is an important issue that needs attention in order to impact accident statistics. Issues such as long working hours, lack of rest that causes fatigue while driving, lack of appropriate monitoring of driver logs, and disincentives—such as pay by the mile—to follow traffic laws all contribute to the danger that tractor-trailers can pose on the road.

While truck driver safety will require better laws and regulations in addition to stronger enforcement mechanisms, there are some things you, as a driver, can do to prevent this type of tragedy from occurring.

  • Know that large trucks behave differently on the road than cars, and approach trucks with caution and alertness.
  • Always avoid the blind spots of a truck—that sign on the back of the truck is true: if you can’t see the truck’s mirrors, then the truck driver can’t see you.
  • Do not cut in front of any large vehicle, including a truck or bus. Large vehicles require much more stopping distance and forcing a vehicle to attempt a stop in a short distance can result in a fatal accident.
  • Use proper procedures to pass a large truck or bus on the highway: accelerate and maintain a consistent speed while passing and wait until you can see the entire cab in your rear-view mirror before signaling and pulling in front of it.
  • Observe a truck’s turn signals before trying to pass it. If the truck appears to be starting a left turn, check which way the driver is signaling before passing the truck on the right. Remember that trucks have to swing wide to the left before turning right safely and you should not pass a truck on the right while the truck is turning right.
  • Do not cut off a truck in traffic of on the highway to reach your exit or turn.
  • Call authorities to report unsafe driving.

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