One of the realities of driving on highways and freeways in the Tri-Cities and the inland Northwest is sharing the road with the large semi trucks that keep our stores stocked. Some people call them 18 wheelers, others call them tractor trailers, but in Washington State the most common term is semi trucks. “Semi truck” just means that the bed of the truck, or the trailer, is removable.
Regardless of what you call them, semi trucks are big and, in specific circumstances, can be very dangerous. While carrying a full load, these trucks may weigh as much as 40 tons without an “overweight” permit. Since the average car weighs just over one ton, and the average passenger pickup weighs about two tons, a semi truck can tip the scale at 20-30 times as much as a single passenger vehicle! So, as you drive down a country road or along the highway, remember these three things to keep you from making an insurance claim or hiring an attorney: semi truck drivers have a restricted scope of visibility; many agricultural drivers, like those during potato harvest, are seasonal and have limited experience; and long-haul drivers frequently drive sleep deprived.
Many large trailers have a sign on the back that says “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” Those signs are warning you that unlike the average driver of a car, a big rig driver doesn’t have a rear-view mirror and can’t just look around for a 360-degree inspection of surroundings. They, to some extent, are relying on you to give them plenty of space when they are turning, especially when they are turning right around a sharp corner. This doesn’t excuse them from their responsibility to signal and to yield to other traffic, but it is something you should always remember as you pass them.
In the Tri-Cities and the surrounding areas, the potato harvest in September and October offers plenty of extra work for anyone who’s looking. The harvest also attracts a lot of new and less-experienced drivers who are needed to get the potatoes (or other fall vegetables and fruits) out of the fields and into cold storage ASAP.
Sometimes, this lack of experience results in on-the-job collisions between co-workers or contractors. Other times, and often more tragically, those passing by are unaware of the reason so many trucks are entering or exiting the highway at unusual and unexpected locations. If no signs are in place warning passing motorists of semi trucks crossing the road, the surprise of seeing a 53-foot trailer blocking all lanes of the highway can end up with devastating consequences. It seems like we see these every year at Anderson Law.
Let’s be real here: we have all driven a car while being sleep deprived. However, most of us were not hauling 30 tons or more of goods at the time. It has been estimated that sleep deprivation is the primary cause of trucking accidents as much as 30 to 40 percent of the time. And if you’ve ever driven more than 10 hours in a day, it’s pretty easy to see why. Just imagine doing that every day. Or worse: imagine the driver who decides that a few energy drinks will fuel a cross-country drive and a quicker payday in just 36 hours. If you have ever seen a semi truck weaving back and forth onto the rumble strips or into an adjacent lane of traffic, you were likely witnessing the effects of sleep deprivation. This has long been a problem and will continue to be a problem until semi trucks become driverless.
The next time you are on the road and you pass a driver in a big rig, remember to give them extra space. You’ll both be glad you did.