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Driving Safely Around Semi-Trucks


Semi-trucks, known as semis, big rigs, tractor-trailers, and 18-wheelers, are fixtures on American roads. They form the backbone of many parts of U.S. shipping, ferrying millions of tons of goods millions of miles annually. 

Semis are also some of the most dangerous vehicles on the road, and their importance is part of why. These large, heavy vehicles must constantly move to get goods to their destinations on time. That’s a recipe for serious accidents. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that large trucks led to the deaths of 5,788 people in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available. 

That number is getting worse, too. The 2021 death toll was 17% higher than in 2020 and 16% higher than in 2019. It is more important than ever to understand the risks these trucks pose on California roads and what to do after you get in an accident with one. 

Why Semi-Trucks Are the Riskiest Vehicles on the Road

Many factors affect the severity of a car accident, but the three most important are speed, size, and site. These factors are an integral part of why semis are dangerous:

  • Speed: The faster a vehicle moves, the more momentum it has. Greater momentum leads to harder impacts when the vehicle hits something, whether that’s a pedestrian or another car. Studies have found that the risk of pedestrian deaths in car accidents more than doubles when speeds increase from 25 mph to 40 mph. 
  • Size: The size and shape of a vehicle also affect how deadly a crash may be. Sedans and similar consumer cars are less likely to cause fatalities to other drivers in a collision because they are relatively small, light-weight, and low to the ground. They can stop with relative ease, so crashes are less severe. In comparison, big rigs tower over other vehicles and are often ten times as heavy as a sedan, even when empty. This makes them much harder to stop and may cause them to roll over or crush other vehicles entirely. 
  • Site: The location of a crash dictates how quickly emergency responders can get to the scene and potentially reduce the severity of injuries or prevent deaths. 26% of all semi-truck accidents occur on interstate highways, and 55% happen in rural areas. These are locations where getting help is significantly harder, which can lead to worse outcomes for victims.

Overall, any accident involving a semi-truck will likely have worse impacts on victims than standard consumer vehicles. In addition, these drivers may be more likely to cause accidents. Pressure from their employers leads many drivers to drive too fast, skip breaks, or use substances to make tight deadlines. As a result, truck drivers may be more likely to “drive drowsy” or intoxicated. These conditions are directly correlated to a significantly higher risk of accidents. 

Tips for Driving Safely Near Semis

So, semi accidents are more dangerous. What can you do to protect yourself? While you cannot control other drivers’ behavior, you can prepare for and react to hazardous conditions and potentially avoid crashes. Strategies to drive safely around big trucks include:

  • Drive Predictably: Bigger vehicles take longer to slow down and turn. Even the most alert trucker may be unable to stop in time if you suddenly cut them off or hit the brakes right in front of them. Instead, use your blinker, keep your speed consistent, prepare for exits in advance, and avoid unnecessary lane changes. This makes it easier for other drivers to prepare for your actions. 
  • Give Trucks Space: Similarly, trucks need more space to safely avoid accidents. It’s best to have at least four seconds of distance between you and a truck, whether you’re ahead or behind them. Add a second if you’re traveling at highway speeds, and double this time if the roads or weather is bad. 
  • Stay Out of Blind Spots: If you don’t tailgate trucks, you will be out of their blind spots already. However, trucks also have blind spots along the sides of their trailers. If you have to pass a semi, get out of this area as quickly as you safely can to ensure the driver remembers you’re there and doesn’t try to merge into your lane while you’re still in it. 
  • Remain Alert: All tips above allow truck drivers to react to your presence. However, it’s just as important that you’re prepared to respond to their driving. Stay alert when around semis and pay attention to their behavior. If you notice the truck weaving, changing speeds, or driving erratically, get as far away from the truck as possible and consider reporting it to local traffic authorities. 

What to Do After an 18-Wheeler Crash

You can only do so much to avoid an accident. Sometimes, you can do your best and still get in a semi-truck accident. Here’s what to do after your accident:

  • Alert the authorities. Depending on the severity of the accident, call 911 or the local non-emergency police line. 911 is best if anyone is heavily injured, if it looks like a fire may start, or if your accident is blocking the road.
  • Get medical help. Injuries are much more likely in semi crashes. Get immediate medical care to treat your injuries and document their source. 
  • Get the driver’s information. If you can, exchange information with the trucker, including their employer’s details. If you can’t do this at the scene, get the details from the police report.
  • Contact a semi-truck accident attorney. Finally, you should talk to a skilled attorney about your accident. You may be required to file a lawsuit to receive insurance compensation for your injuries, and a lawyer will help you understand your options. 

The Ellis Firm, APLC, is available to answer your questions and help you decide whether you have a case. Learn more about how we can help you respond after a semi-truck crash by scheduling a consultation with our Temecula and San Diego personal injury law firm today.