Unique Truck Driving Conditions
There are a number of driving situations that commercial truck drivers must pay special attention to in order to avoid crashes:
Night driving can be dangerous because of how much tougher it is for truck drivers to see and identify hazards than in the daylight hours. At night, there is less time to respond to an accident, hazards or changes on Michigan roads. Using low-beam headlights, a truck driver can see about 250 feet ahead of his or her truck. High beams will elevate perception to about 350 to 500 feet. Truck drivers are required to use high beams in rural areas and when there is no oncoming traffic. To reduce the glare from oncoming traffic that often results in truck accidents, truckers are advised not to look directly at the bright lights, but rather at the right side of road.
Another dangerous situation that could lead to truck accidents involves heavy fog, where truck drivers must realize that their vehicle or another vehicle may be invisible. When there is extremely heavy fog, drivers should pull off the road and wait for the fog to clear if possible. Otherwise, they should be extremely cautious when driving and also keep their headlights on the low-beam setting.
Railroad crossings can also be very dangerous. Truck drivers should approach each one assuming a train is coming, by stopping their vehicle no closer than 15 feet from the closest rail. Commercial truck drivers should not rely on hearing the train horn, because the noise in the cab of the truck can be very loud. Nor should truck drivers rely solely on signals and gates indicating that a train is on its way. Instead, look carefully in all directions to make sure a train is not coming. Upon crossing the tracks, drivers must make sure that all shifting is done before the first rail. Never shift gears in the middle of crossing railroad tracks.
Although not as common as in other states, Michigan does still have some hilly terrain that can be tricky. Gravity will slow a semi-truck on an upgrade and speed up a tractor-trailer on the downgrade. Therefore, the steeper and longer the grade, the lower the gear should be in order to counter the effects of gravity. On choosing the right gear, the general rule is to use one gear lower on the downgrade than was used on the upgrade. Still, truck drivers should consider all factors, including the amount of load, grade, length of grade, visibility on the grade and road and brake conditions. To avoid a truck accident, it’s important that truck drivers do not attempt to downshift after starting down a grade. In order to downshift, the speed of the truck must be reduced. Brakes also play a significant role in keeping the truck at a safe speed when negotiating the downgrade. However, truck drivers should recognize that overuse of the brakes can lead to a fatal truck accident or injury as a result of brake fade — where the brakes fail because of heat generated from overuse.
Brakes play a primary role in controlling the speed of a truck. If properly adjusted and maintained, brakes will not overheat and all of the brakes will handle an equal share of the work. If available, truck drivers should consider a retarding system to support the service brakes. In some cases, the retarding system will handle 90 percent of the work. Truck drivers should also be aware of the exit ramps built on steep mountain downgrades to stop runaway vehicles from causing truck accidents resulting in personal injuries or fatalities.
Hazards, be it road conditions or road users, demand extra alertness and caution to avoid truck accidents. These include construction zones, pavement drop-offs, objects lying in the roadway and on and off ramps. Objects lying in the roadway are particularly hazardous because the situation requires braking and turning simultaneously. This is difficult, especially when an object lying in the roadway is completely unexpected. Posted speed limits for automobiles will be too fast for heavy vehicles like semi-trucks and big-rigs.
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