Remember that time you got stuck behind that truck and couldn’t overtake? Not for lack of trying, but because the A-hole of a driver drifted across every time you tried to peek around him to check if the coast was clear. I’ve got news for you though – chances are, you were the A-hole, not him. He didn’t even know you were behind him, let alone trying to pass him. He checked his mirrors and you weren’t there, and you know why? Your following distance was all wrong.
You’ve done it, I’ve done it, even that angel of a woman, your great Aunt Mildred, has done it. We’ve all followed too closely to a car in front of us, and likely do so on a regular basis. We console ourselves with the notion that a regular car has a transparent piece of glass at the back and a mirror through which to see us, but the fact is we still follow too closely. That’s why we have so many bumper bashings on the way to work – when the car ahead of us slams on brakes, we’re too close to stop in time, and so is the guy behind us.
But whereas a car has a rear windscreen and a rear-view mirror that enables the driver to see through that transparent piece of glass, a truck driver doesn’t – all he can see is a trailer. His side mirrors enable some visibility rearwards, but when angled to see the back of his 5, 10, or 15 metre long trailer, the angle of visibility is incredibly narrow. That means his line of visibility gets drawn that much further backwards behind the trailer. If you follow a truck at the same distance you would a car, you’re sitting in one giant blind spot and can’t blame the truck driver for not seeing you.
It’s not just limited to trucks though – large trailers, caravans, and horse trailers create the same blind spot. I never understood it, nor even pondered it, until recently. Until then, I was one of those that got incredibly upset when the truck/trailer pilot “cut me off”.
But lately I’ve done a lot of towing of the latter of those three, and numerous times I’ve been hooted at and shown all sorts of nasty gestures when someone finally overtakes me. I consider myself to be a considerate driver when I’m stuck hauling a heavy equine load, so I constantly look out for other drivers and move over as much as possible to allow them to pass – but the fact is I can’t see half the drivers following me because they’re all too close.
It was only after screaming for the millionth time, “But I can’t see you when you’re up my ass like that!” that I realised I’d been guilty of the same thing – many, many times. We’re accustomed to our own range of visibility, but we take for granted the notion that other drivers can always see us. More often than not, they can’t, and we only have ourselves to blame.
Not only does keeping a steady following distance make it easier to avoid an accident, but it also prevents frustrating situations being stuck behind a crawling truck without being able to overtake. More than that, it actually makes overtaking easier. Your own forward line of visibility is that much greater, meaning you can spot an oncoming car sooner.
You can also spot an overtaking gap in advance to prevent hazardous popping in and out of the adjacent lane, and you also have more open space ahead of you to accelerate before moving out to overtake. By speeding up before overtaking, you reduce the amount of time spent in an ‘oncoming lane’. Less time there = less time in which an accident might occur.
Perhaps the best bit of advice for following a truck or trailer came one day whilst I was following one at my usual following distance of ‘far-too-close’ – a bumper sticker across the back of his trailer that said, “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” 10 simple words, but they make driving a lot safer, and a lot less frustrating next time you need to overtake a truck or trailer.