From Cape Reinga to State Highway 6, New Zealand is famous for spectacular driving roads. Unfortunately, enjoying the roadside scenery has been increasingly associated with a sense of danger due to a rise in crashes and fatalities. During the most recent Anzac weekend, 11 lives were lost in fatal crashes over just a few days. The total economic cost of road injury crashes is estimated at $4.6 billion per year, and the heart-breaking impact on families and communities is immeasurable.
Although everyone behind the wheel has equal responsibility to share the road safely, in most cases, car drivers and motorists just aren’t acutely aware of the risks when sharing New Zealand’s road network with trucks. Every year, around 44 people die as a result of crashes between trucks and cars or motorcycles. In most truck collisions, it is the other road users that are killed, and many truck drivers suffer ongoing mental trauma after an accident.
Since trucks and other heavy vehicles do not navigate the roads like cars do, it is important to be more mindful of their limitations, as well as know what we should do to ensure a safer journey for ourselves, our passengers, and other road users. Below is a list of truck etiquette practices that every truck driver wishes other drivers would follow.
Keep away from a truck’s blind spots
Did you know that trucks have four blind spots – on both sides, in front of the truck cab, and behind the trailer? Being longer and wider, trucks have much larger blind spots than cars. These blind spots, or “no zones”, are where the truck driver can’t see you, and understandably the most dangerous places to drive or ride in. It’s always a good idea to avoid lingering in these blind spots and position your vehicle where it can be seen in the truck’s side mirrors. By letting the driver know you are there, it is easier for them to give you a heads-up before stopping or turning. Remember that if a truck driver changes lanes or makes a turn while your vehicle is in one of these blind spots, a serious collision is inevitable.
Maintain a good distance
Large trucks need plenty of room to manoeuvre safely on the roads, especially to navigate tight turns. Keeping a safe distance – ideally a two-to-four second gap between the truck and your vehicle – will ensure your visibility and give you enough time to stop. Again, if you tailgate, chances are you will enter the truck’s blind spots. Truck drivers can’t see anything closer than 10 metres and sometimes up to 50 metres behind the trailer. Stay far enough back to prevent an underride collision. Another tip: don’t assume that the large gap between the truck and the vehicle in front is the signal that you can fill it with your vehicle. That’s how they give themselves enough time and space to brake heavily if needed.
Be aware of road and weather conditions
Pay attention to road and weather conditions, as wet or icy roads increase the risk of tyres slipping or a ‘jackknife’ accident, the most common type of truck accident in which a large truck starts skidding and the trailer swings around or folds in a V-shape with the tractor. When driving in difficult conditions, slowing down is highly recommended. The gap between your vehicle and the truck ahead of you should also be at least four seconds to ensure your vision will not be limited by road debris thrown out from under the truck’s wheels.
At night, adjust your lights when you follow a truck or passing one. Side mirrors increase visibility for truck drivers, but they also reflect high beams and bright lights can distract, or in some extreme cases, temporarily blind the driver.
Use your signal properly
A fully loaded truck weighs 20 times more than an average car and travels at 90km/h. It can’t stop like cars, even with the most advanced braking systems. If you cut in front of a truck, suddenly slow down or stop, you’re putting yourself at great risk of a rear-end collision. As a rule of thumb, if you want to turn, switch lanes or brake, indicate early on to give the truck driver plenty of braking space.
Be patient, and stay alert
Did you know that excessive speed kills 130 people in New Zealand every year? Good speed management helps decrease the general rate of speed on the road, and also the risk of collisions for truck drivers and other vehicles alike. Furthermore, make sure to check the recommended speeds on turns and bends, and whether it is safe to pass.
Last but not least, be alert at all times, avoid recipes for a disaster like texting and talking on the phone. Always remain vigilant, follow the rules of the road, and remember that the road is for everyone. The truck driver in the vehicle in front of you has a family to come back to just like you do. The real question is, what are you doing to share the road safely?