Automobile drivers must focus on safety while sharing the roadways with large commercial trucks, but some basic driving tips can take away the fear of big trucks and help keep roadways safer for all vehicles.
Officials from the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois State Police, and the Illinois Trucking Association came together at the Illinois State Fair on Friday to talk about the importance of commercial trucking on Illinois highways, and ways in which all other vehicle drivers can stay safe while sharing roadways with big trucks.
“Large commercial trucks can be intimidating to many drivers, but we’re here today to tell Illinoisans that commercial truck drivers are usually among the safest and most knowledgeable drivers on the road, and they perform an absolutely critical function in delivering goods and products we all need and use every day,” said Ann L. Schneider, Illinois Secretary of Transportation and chair of the National Freight Advisory Council. “We want to remind drivers to respect big trucks when you encounter them on the road, and to employ a few basic safety tips to help everyone arrive at their destinations without mishaps.”
Those safety tips include giving big trucks room to maneuver when traffic is tight, not making sudden lane changes or stops with big trucks immediately behind your vehicle, and especially to give big trucks room and time to change lanes, make turns, and enter freeways via access ramps.
“Large trucks are not as maneuverable as automobiles, and we all need to share the roads and make sure we can be seen by truck drivers,” Schneider said. “The main rule of thumb when driving near a big truck involves making sure your own car is visible to the truck driver, and making no unexpected moves,” she added. “Generally, if you can’t see the truck’s side mirrors, the truck driver can’t see you or your car. So drivers have to be especially careful as they travel near or attempt to pass trucks because there are many blind spots and little time or space for either vehicle to react in many cases.
We also need to remember that it takes big truck more time and distance to stop, so we want to make sure we don’t perform any quick or surprising lane changes or changes in speed when a truck is behind us.”
Matt Hart, Executive Director of the Illinois Trucking Association, agreed. “It takes additional time and space for commercial trucks to change lanes or make turns at intersections or as they enter roadways, and we want to urge all motorists to help them by giving large trucks a bit more time and space so everyone can travel more safely,” Hart said. “It doesn’t cost much time, and in the long run, roadways can be a lot safer.”
The Illinois State Police emphasize the importance of the move over law, requiring motorists to vacate the lane nearest emergency or police vehicles parked on highway shoulders.
“Most motorists understand the purpose of that law as one of safety, but we also need to ensure that we give big trucks an opportunity to slow down, move over and be safe, especially in situations where traffic is tight,” said Maj. Brad Carnduff of the Illinois State Police. “Illinois State Police Troopers will strictly enforce work zone speed limits and the ‘move over” law, which requires motorists to slow down and, if possible, change lanes when approaching police, emergency or construction vehicles displaying flashing warning lights. We will also strictly enforce distracted driving laws which restrict the use of a cell phone in a construction zone and texting while driving.”
Schneider noted that safety should be the primary concern for every motorist and commercial vehicle while driving. “We’re doing better in recent years on safety concerning big trucks, but we still have a long way to go to get to zero fatalities, and that’s our main goal,” Schneider said.
Crash data shows that in 2011, the latest year available, about 10,000 crashes occurred in Illinois involving big trucks, less than 4 percent of the 280,000 crashes occurring among all vehicles. Of those crashes, 81 fatal crashes involved a large truck, down from 111 fatal crashes as recently as 2007. The 96 fatalities involved in those 2011 big-truck crashes represents about 10 percent of total fatalities in Illinois that year. “That’s far too many fatalities, but the overall total is down considerably from where we were just five years ago,” when 124 motorists died in crashes with big trucks, Schneider added. The fatal crash rate for big trucks is down more than 75 percent since the U.S. Department of Transportation began keeping crash records in 1975.
Meanwhile, the commercial trucking industry in Illinois performs a valuable service in the both delivery of needed products and goods, and in the employment of Illinois workers, Hart said. “Commercial trucks in Illinois carry more than 1.6 million tons of freight on average every day, representing more than three-fourths of total manufactured tonnage in the state in 2010. Keep in mind that 70 percent of Illinois communities depend entirely on commercial trucks for movement of all their goods in and out.”
More than 20,000 trucking firms call Illinois home, employing nearly 270,000 workers, or one of every 18 jobs in the state, Hart said. “Total trucking industry wages paid in Illinois in 2011 exceeded $12 billion, with an annual trucking industry salary of more than $44,500. Those are good jobs, and they mean a lot to the economy here.”
ITA also points out that trucking firms typically pay more than 40 percent of all taxes and fees owed by Illinois motorists, but represent only about 12 percent of the vehicle miles traveled in the state. “Illinois Trucking Association members put safety first through improved driver training, investment in advanced safety technologies, and active participation in industry safety initiatives at every level,” Hart said. “We are committed to sharing the road safely with all vehicles, and the industry’s Share the Road program sends professional drivers to communities all over the state and nation to teach other drivers about blind spots, stopping distances and ways to safely merge with big trucks.”
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