Car Drivers: Understanding Large Vehicles

When a passenger vehicle collides with a larger truck or bus, the results can be tragic. While crashes involving trucks and buses represent only 8.7% of total collisions, they account for 21% of fatalities. And it's the occupants of the smaller vehicle who are more likely to suffer. A better understanding of how large vehicles operate and move can help motorists reduce the risk of collision.

Large trucks and buses are not like cars-not even big cars. Driving these large vehicles requires extra skill and training, especially when the road is difficult, the weather bad or the traffic heavy. When trucks and buses speed up, slow down, climb hills, switch lanes and make turns, they perform in ways that are not the same as cars. The bigger the vehicle, the larger its blind spots, the more room it needs to manoeuvre, and the longer it takes to speed up or to stop.

But no matter how skillful professional drivers may be, their vehicles impose physical limits on how effectively they can react to unexpected moves by other road users.

Remember: Exercise patience and courtesy towards all other road users. Keeping them safe keeps you safe.

Illustration of traffic on a bridgeWhile trucks and buses have more powerful engines than cars, they must also pull much more weight. A heavy truck may need 10 gear changes to reach the speed limit, and may take twice as much time and distance as a car to stop. Large trucks and buses make wide turns, and may first have to move in the opposite direction (left for a right-hand turn, right for a left-hand turn) in order to turn some corners.

Truck and bus drivers are aware of the limitations and the power of their vehicles, and therefore take their driving very seriously.

Are you a car driver who occasionally drives larger vehicles, such as a moving van or a motor-home? The Sharing the Road with passenger cars section will be particularly helpful.

Tips and Advice for Car drivers

Blind Spots

Drivers of large trucks and buses enjoy a better forward view and have larger side mirrors. But remember that they also have more and larger blind spots. Avoid staying in one of their blind spots-if you can't see the driver in his or her side mirror, the driver probably can't see you.

Graphic of the blind spots of a truck.

Approaching Large Vehicles

Larger vehicles create more air turbulence at highway speeds. When approaching, keep a steady grip on your steering wheel.

Truck and bus wheels spray a lot of rain in the summer and slush in the winter. When the road is wet, turn on your windshield wipers when approaching trucks and buses so you'll be able to see more clearly at all times.

Image of a car driver encountering poor visibility due to spray coming from a truck in front of her.

Following a Large Vehicle

Tailgating is always dangerous, but tailgating a large truck or bus is especially dangerous. Not only does this reduce your ability to see what's happening on the road ahead, but the driver of the truck or bus can't see you. Keep a safe distance when following. And remember, if you can't see the driver in his or her side mirror, the driver can't see you.

When possible, stay to the left side within your lane. This increases your own field of vision and makes you more visible to the bus or truck driver.

Leave plenty of space when coming to a stop behind a large vehicle on an incline. Heavy vehicles can roll back as much as 4.5 metres (15 feet) when the driver's foot is taken off the brake to accelerate.

Braking Distance

Don't squeeze your vehicle into the space that a truck or bus driver leaves between the truck or bus and the vehicle ahead of it. The driver is leaving enough room to brake safely. If you reduce this braking distance, you may be forcing the driver behind you to make a difficult choice: brake hard (possibly causing problems like jackknifing), or risk rear-ending your vehicle.

Wide Turns

Sometimes large vehicles must swing wide to turn safely-they'll swing right for a left turn and left for a right turn. Watch their turn signals and give them room to manoeuvre. Never drive between a turning truck or bus and the side of the road-your car could get stuck between the large vehicle and the curb.

Large truck making a wide right turn.

Large truck making a wide left turn.

Passing

Rearview mirrorDon't stay in the passing lane after overtaking a truck or bus. When you can see the entire front of the truck or bus in your rear-view mirror, make a shoulder check, signal and return to the right lane.

Never overtake a bus or truck on the right side-this is the side with the largest blind spot. If the larger vehicle needs to move to the right, he or she may not see you in time to avoid a collision.

Reversing

Drivers of large vehicles can't see objects that are close behind them. Unless they have someone assisting them, stay clear of a truck or bus that is backing up.

Signal Your Intentions

Trucks and buses take more time and need greater distances than cars to speed up, manoeuvre and stop. When driving near a large vehicle, signal your intentions early so that the truck or bus driver has enough time to react safely.

In Hilly Terrain

The speed of large vehicles will vary in hilly areas-faster down an incline and slower going up. Going faster down a slope helps a driver develop enough momentum to drive up the next hill at a reasonable speed. Be prepared to adjust your speed to maintain a safe distance.

If you're driving up a hill behind a large vehicle that is going slower, remember that the driver is probably doing his or her best to keep up speed. Be patient and slow down to maintain a safe distance.

If you're driving down a hill ahead of a large vehicle that is fast approaching, speed up a little, if it's safe to do so, to keep a safe distance between your vehicles. The truck or bus driver may be trying to slow down safely without losing the momentum needed to climb the next hill at a reasonable speed.

Highway Driving

On many highways with three or more lanes, large vehicles are not allowed to use the far left lane, even for passing slower vehicles. When a large vehicle is following you in a centre lane, give it the opportunity to pass by moving to the right lane.

When a truck or bus moves to the left lane to allow you to merge with traffic on a highway, slow down a little to let it return to the right lane in front of you. This will allow you to pass safely on the left, if you wish, and will help the larger vehicle get out of faster-moving left-lane traffic.



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