Road Safety: Sharing The Open Road With Trucks

Trucks are everywhere. Love them or hate them, we need trucks. We rely on them for pretty well everything we consume… from fuel to our favourite chocolate biscuits on the supermarket shelf.

And the further you travel from cities, the bigger they are.

Whether a small truck or a 60 metre long road train, we need to treat trucks with respect. It’s simple physics… and basic road safety. 

From side-on, you get a feel for how long some of these road trains are. Road safety.
A side-on view gives you an idea how long some of these vehicles are. And many road trains are quite a bit longer than this one.

If something big hits something small, the smaller of the two always comes off second best.

(And yes, there is such a thing as a 60m long road train. They’re running in the Pilbara under special permit, weighing just on 200 tonnes fully loaded.)

You can listen to the “experts” ranting about trucks… or you can be pragmatic. Face it, trucks are here to stay.

Truck Drivers Are People, Just Like You

In every truck there’s a driver… a person. It’s easy to forget this when a truck looms in your mirror.

Truck drivers are people, just like you and me. They might be having a great day. Or they might be going through a marriage breakup, or their child is sick or in trouble with the law.

And just like you and me, occasionally they’ll make mistakes or make a bad decision. They’re only human.

Moving off the road for road trains is basic road safety commonsense.
While many people are intimidated by big trucks, just remember every truck has a driver who is just trying to do his or her job. Photo taken on Telfer Mine Road, WA.

Overwhelmingly though, truck drivers are experienced professionals. Personally I would much rather share the road with trucks than cars. Why? Because they’re predictable, professional and if you do the right thing, courteous.

Yes, a tiny percentage are maniacs. But have a look at the cars around you.

What percentage of them are predictable, professional and courteous? What percentage of them are maniacs? Way more than trucks I’ll wager.

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Some Facts

Here’s a few things to consider before we get into details:

  • In over 80% of truck/car crashes, the car is at fault. Go here for more information.
  • Trucks can be 50 to 100 times heavier than your 4WD, campervan or car/caravan. Remember what I said about something big hitting something small?
  • Trucks take a long time to stop, much longer than a car.
  • Trucks take a long time to pick up speed. So they need to carefully time their overtaking manoeuvres.
  • Trucks can’t swerve like cars. If they do, they tend to fall over.
  • Trucks have blinds spots on both sides of the cabin and sometimes in front.
  • Truck drivers are working. The road is their workplace, so be considerate.

Many years ago, one of the states had a road safety slogan, “The Road Is There To Share”. This is so true.

You don’t own the road, nor do the truck drivers. The road is there to share… we’re all on the road for some reason, and we have to share it. So we might as well be courteous and considerate.

So you’re out on the open road and you encounter a large truck. How do you share the open road safely with these heavy vehicles?

5 Basic Road Safety Tips

1. Give Them Room To Pass

Trucks are big, that much is obvious. If you’re on a narrow road, move over to the left of your lane and give them some space. Don’t hug the centreline.

This is no time to assert your authority or play games. The truck is bigger, you’re smaller, so move over. Simple.

Roadtrains kick up plenty of duct on dirt roads. Pull off and let the dust settle. Road safety.
Allowing a triple road train to pass safely. Notice we’ve pulled off the road and stopped. Anyway, driving into that dust is a great way to have a head-on collision.

And if you’re on one of those horrible single lane tar roads mostly found in Western Queensland, get off the tar entirely and let them stay on the tar. 

Why? Well, the simple unofficial rule on these roads is that the bigger vehicle gets right of way.

Plus you probably don’t want a truck dropping wheels onto the gravel and spraying fist-sized rocks in your direction. Or worse, the rear wheels of the back trailer dropping off the tar and causing the whole combination to snake wildly.

If you have to pull over and stop, so be it.

2. Give Them Room To Overtake

Honestly, it’s rare to find a caravan doing the 100km/h speed limit. Most travel between 80 and 90 km/h. Now this is not a rant on how caravaners should maintain the speed limit. I’ll leave that for another time…

If you must travel slowly on the open road, keep a good eye on what’s happening behind you. If traffic is building, pull over when safe and let them past.

Maintain a consistent speed. More on this later.

And if you come up behind a slow vehicle and decide not to overtake, then back off. Give other vehicles room to overtake you and be able to pull back in front safely.

If you’re that vehicle following a slower vehicle and you don’t want to overtake, that’s fine. Road safety is all about knowing your limitations. Just give others room to overtake you safely.

So if you see a truck coming up behind you, gradually open the gap between you and the vehicle you’re following.

Keep your distance from slower vehicles in front if you're not overtaking. Give others room to pull in after overtaking. Basic road safety.
An example of what not to do when following a slower vehicle. The second caravaner had no intention of overtaking the front van. But he didn’t leave enough space for the roadtrain to pull in between him and the front vehicle. (Apologies for the grainy photo).

In the photo above, the triple roadtrain driver had zero chance of overtaking. Where was he going to have the space to build up speed and get around two long vehicles? If the second caravaner had opened the gap, then the truck driver would be able to overtake each vehicle safely.

The second vehicle is keeping a good distance from the vehicle in front, allowing the truck room to overtake. Road safety.
That’s better! The truck had just overtaken the vehicle now behind it. This vehicle left plenty of room for the truck to overtake and safely pull back in.

3. Use Your UHF

If you have a UHF, then use it.

When a truck approaches behind you, call them up. Identify yourself, eg “Do you have a copy in the white truck behind the southbound Corrimal caravan?” or “Do you have a copy in the red truck behind the westbound white van?”

Tell them you’ll back off when they pull out to overtake. Often they’ll call you up when they’re ready to overtake. Or sometimes they just pull out.

Either way, don’t back off until the truck has moved out to overtake. If you do, they could easily clip the back of you.

Make sure you back off, as you promised. When it’s safe for them to pull back in, flash your headlights or tell them over the UHF.

And keep a close eye on the road ahead. If an on-coming vehicle suddenly appears from nowhere, you’ll need to wipe off your speed quickly so the truck can pull back in.

Remember, this is not the time to assert your authority. There’s people in all these vehicles, including the truck. They all have families and loved ones. You’re not playing some weird video game. No, you’re messing with peoples’ lives.

“But I don’t have a UHF” I hear some of you say. Read on…

4. Be Consistent

No matter what vehicle I drive, there’s one thing that drives me crazy… the one thing that makes me wish rocket launchers were an optional extra on all vehicles. What is this thing?

Drivers speeding up and slowing down… not maintaining a consistent speed. Arrrrgh!

We’ve all been caught behind someone who’s doing 60km/h one minute, then 110 the next and so on. And we all know how frustrating it is when you try to overtake, then they speed up!

It’s bad enough when you’re in a car. Imagine what it’s like in a truck.

Imagine your vehicle weighs 60 tonnes or more and takes ages to get up to speed. You come up behind a vehicle doing 80km/h. There’s a long straight approaching, so you time your run carefully and gradually build speed.

You’re almost at the place where you’re going to overtake. Then the vehicle slows down a bit. You have to back off. Now you’ve lost all momentum and have no chance of overtaking. So you wait.

Another chance appears. This time you start to overtake. But now the car has sped up, it’s sitting beside you. Now you’re stuck on the wrong side of the road.

Sound familiar?

Be consistent. Maintain a constant speed, no matter what that speed is. This way, trucks who want to overtake can be confident you won’t speed up or slow down when they try to overtake you.

99% of the time when you see a truck tailgating a car, it’s because the car is not maintaining a consistent speed. Remember, truck drivers are human beings. They will most likely be angry and frustrated. Wouldn’t you?

And if you don’t have a UHF to call them up, simply be consistent. This gives truck drivers some confidence they’ll be able to pass you safely.

5. Dealing With Oversize Loads

When an oversize load is coming your way, be extra vigilant. Some are simply loads slightly longer or wider than the trailer. Others are massive, 8 metres wide or more.

A wide load. These trucks needed both lanes of the road. Road safety.
Some oversize loads are massive. These mine dump truck bodies are 8 metres wide, so the trucks need both lanes.

If you have a UHF, listen out for oversize loads. The escort in front will call up all approaching trucks and warn them.

If you don’t have a UHF, slow down when you see an oversize load escort. If the load takes up the entire road, they’ll likely drive down the centre of the road to indicate you have to pull off the road.

Slow down and assess the situation. Be prepared to pull right off the road.

In Summary

Courtesy, consistency and consideration go a long way when you’re sharing Australia’s sub-standard road network with trucks.

Road safety is about people. Concentrate on every person inside every vehicle you encounter. Every one of those people has someone who loves and cares for them.

They’re not statistics, they’re people.

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Any errors or omissions are mine alone.

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