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Car Insurance

A Blog About Driving and Car Insurance in the USA

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Don't Idle Next to Monstrous Tractor Trailers At Traffic Lights!

Figure A: tractor trailer accident at traffic lightYesterday, I witnessed a very ugly and senseless car accident. Thankfully, no one got hurt, but it was still very ugly to watch. I also learned a very valuable lesson from a very smart driver.

I was in the far right lane of a 4-lane road, a few cars back from a traffic light ahead. To my left was a lady in a Toyota Camry. To her left was one of the biggest tractor trailers I've ever seen. The cabin was so high off the ground that the driver was almost eye-to-eye with the traffic light, no exaggeration.

Now, this lady -- I will refer to her as Ms. Camry from now on -- was waiting for the traffic light to turn green like everyone else, except she was idling next to me, which was about 3-4 car lengths from the car in front of her. In other words, there was a huge gap between Ms. Camry, who was next to me, and the car in front of her, which was a green Cadillac (Mr. Cadi) sedan waiting at the light. Mr. Cadi was idling in pole position at the light, right next to the tractor section of the massive tractor trailer (Monster TT.) Ms. Camry had positioned herself to the right of, and next to the rear wheels of, the Monster TT. I realize that my description of this scene may not be adequate to get the right picture in your head, so I put together a quick diagram (see Figure A at the top left of this entry.)

OK, so as soon as the light turned green, another very strange thing happened: Ms Camry started blaring her horn repeatedly, as if trying to get someone's attention. I scanned the scene and saw nothing that would justify her repeated honking. I was beginning to think that Ms. Camry was playing with a few toys in the attic.

Figure B: tractor trailer accident at traffic light
Then I saw what she was honking at. Monster TT had started to turn into the lane next him, but the driver hadn't bothered to check if there was a car in that spot. Carelessly, the driver of the truck began turning into the lane to the right of him, and -- you guessed it -- he struck the side of Mr. Cadi's car, in the left-front quarter panel (see Figure B to the right.)

The very wise Ms. Camry had seen the accident coming. That's why she had been idling a few cars lengths behind Mr. Cadi, and it's also why she had been honking her horn in earnest when the truck started moving. What else could she do? Prior to the accident, she probably wanted to step out of her car and warn the truck driver, but then she probably thought, "but he's a professional. He's not going to do anything stupid like turn into the next lane without checking first." Unfortunately for Mr. Cadi, her worst fears came true.

You would think that a driver of such a massive vehicle would have more sense. Aren't these folks trained to avoid such accidents? I know what he was trying to do: e was trying to get over to the right side of the road so that he could enter the parking lot of a Wawa store. But he was very stupid for assuming that the lane next to him would be empty.


Back in the early 90's, I witnessed a terrible tractor trailer accident on my way back from Ohio. A similar truck inadvertently force a car off the interstate and into a deep ravine. The truck driver wasn't aware that he had just caused a serious accident. A number of drivers on the highway signaled him to stop, which he eventually did. My friend and I pulled over to check on the accident victims. They were fine, but very rattled. There was a look in their eyes: it was the look of stark realization that they'd come as close as anyone can get to meeting their maker. Their car was totaled. They refused our help, and insisted that we leave them alone. They may have thought that our intention was to try and take advantage of their fractured and vulnerable state and do something evil like rob them, or worse. They were shaking with fear and had gone into total defense mode. They said they'd be OK, so after offering assistance one more time, we left them and called for help. I felt bad for them, because the car was full of household items and many items looked damaged.

So, yeah: I've learned to stay as far away from tractor trailers as possible when I'm driving. It doesn't matter if I'm on the highway or on a local road, I either downshift and pass them or I stay behind them in an adjacent lane. I NEVER driver next to them. And now, thanks to Ms. Camry, I've learned to avoid idling next to one at a traffic light.

I've also leaned to avoid driving directly behind big trucks. Trucks often kick up stones and other hard road debris that tend to hit my windshield with force, which on more than one occasion has resulted in an annoying chip in my glass (and, of course, the chip seems to always end up in my functional field of view!)tractor trailer accident But there's another far more serious reason for avoiding the rear of a big truck while driving: trailers tend to have massive wheels and beds set high in the air, so if you end up smashing into the back end of one of these monsters, the trailer's extremely solid bed will likely make contact with your windshield instead of the front end of your car (see image to the left.) So, instead of your airbags deploying and you surviving, your car's front end could slide under the trailer's rear, and you could easily lose your head, literally. "Underride accidents" are not uncommon, despite the fact that modern trucks are required to have safety bumpers installed. The unfortunate truth is that many older tractor trailers don't have underride additions, and these add-on bumpers often collapse when they make contact with another vehicle.



I hope the careless driver who ruined Mr. Cadi's day got a heavy suspension and a fine for his nonsense. He needs a serious reminder of just how responsible one must be to drive a 20 ton commercial vehicle. I don't mean to be negative, but large vehicles should only be entrusted to the most professional drivers.

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