To legally drive a heavy vehicle on NZ roads, there is extensive training and testing to be done. We are regularly pulled over for a safety check and there are strict routines and checklists in place so that we can keep safe and keep other kiwis safe in the process.
Unfortunately, how to safely share the road with heavy vehicles is not included in driving training for smaller vehicle license tests.
We may be slower around the corners, take up a lot of space and our actions can often be seen as “truckies thinking they own the road”, but we need to be here. Transporting food and goods around the country is happening on a daily basis and is an essential process for all kiwis to live their lives conveniently.
NZTA research shows that every year approximately 80 people are killed as a result of a collision between a truck and cars/motorcycles, and a further 800 are injured. These are shocking statistics and studies show that part of the problem is drivers being unaware of potential hazards when sharing the road with a heavy vehicle, through a lack of education.
The more drivers are aware of heavy vehicles limitations and how to encounter them, the more crashes can be prevented. Below are some guidelines suggested by NZTA to safely share the roads with heavy vehicles, we aren’t out to get you, but most importantly we can’t always see you!
How to safely share the road with a heavy vehicle
Keep a safe distance when following trucks – In good conditions there should always be a 3 second gap between your vehicle and the vehicle in front, and an even bigger gap in poor conditions. This is most important for stopping in a hurry, however it also prevents road spray picked up by the trucks wheels affecting visibility. Trucks can also block your visibility from other drivers, by hanging back you can ensure you are visible to all on the road.
Stay out of blind spots – Trucks have larger blind spots than smaller vehicles, and don’t even know that you are there if you’re not visible. Position your vehicle so that you can see their side mirrors, that way you can be confident that you are seen by the driver.
Trucks also have blidspots on the side – As well as the back blindspot, trucks have large blindspots on both sides. If you are on multi laned roads or overtaking, spend as little time in these blind spots as possible. If a driver tries to change lanes without knowing you’re there you could collide. Always keep their side mirrors visible.
Be patient when overtaking – Trucks are bigger than cars, for this reason it takes longer to overtake them. Make sure you have more clear road ahead than usual so that you can safely overtake, remember it can take several seconds longer than overtaking a car. When overtaking, don’t pull into the lane again until the whole truck is visible in the rear view mirror, trucks can also have blind spots directly in front of them and may not see you if you pull in too close. Also trucks take longer to stop in a hurry so if you cut off a truck, they can’t slow down as quickly as a car. Trucks have a large surface area and motorcycles and small cars can be affected by air turbulence when overtaking.
A truck takes longer to stop – A truck-trailer unit travelling at 90km/h will generally take twice the distance to stop than a car due to its weight and brake design. By cutting in front of them and suddenly slowing or stopping, you risk a serious rear-end crash. By leaving them plenty of breaking space and indicating sooner you can give the driver plenty of time to prepare for the speed change.
When a truck turns, they may need to cross the centre line – When turning a corner trucks often have to cross the centre line, particularly when turning left. Don’t assume the truck is turning right, by trying to undertake them you can cause a serious crash. Always look at the indicators instead of movement, but it is safest to never pass a turning truck. This includes when passing on the right as the backend of a truck can often intrude across the lane during a turn.
Always wait while a truck is reversing – A truck often blocks a road when reversing into a driveway or side street, this is often unavoidable due to its size. Never attempt to drive behind a reversing truck as you are entering their blindspot and risking a serious crash. The truck could also conceal a hazard behind them on the other side. It is safest to be patient and wait until the road is unblocked.
Watch out for air turbulence – Keep a firm control of the steering whilst passing an oncoming truck or overtaking one, a motorcyclist should move to the left of the lane to avoid the worst of the air turbulence.
Watch out for splashing or spray when following a truck – In wet conditions splash and spray can be thrown out from truck wheels and make it difficult to see clearly. Trucks legally have to have mudguards and mudflaps at a certain length to reduce this however you still get it thrown out from the side of the wheels. Unfortunately there is no equipment available to avoid this. Instead, keep you windscreen clean and windscreen wipers in good condition and increase the distance between your vehicle and the truck.
By educating ourselves and understanding limitations and potential movements of trucks on our roads we can hopefully keep our NZ roads safer for all on them. Trucks may seem to be a nuisance but they are needed for the day to day life of all kiwis, by sharing the road safely together we can hopefully reduce the number of crashes on our roads and stay safe.