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Sharing the road: What drivers can do to avoid large truck crashes

Drivers can lower their odds of being involved in truck crashes by understanding the dangers these vehicles pose and using best practices to share the road.

Large truck crashes are relatively rare next to other motor vehicle accidents, but they still upend the lives of thousands of people in Virginia each year. In 2015, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, 4,978 commercial vehicle crashes occurred, injuring 3,340 people and claiming 77 lives.

Unfortunately, the occupants of passenger vehicles often suffer the most severe outcomes in these accidents. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that in fatal accidents involving trucks and passenger vehicles, 97 percent of fatality victims are the occupants of passenger vehicles. This makes it critical for these drivers to know how to reduce their risk of being involved in large truck crashes.

Unique dangers of trucks

Large trucks vary from passenger vehicles in several ways that can raise the risk of accidents and also make truck crashes more catastrophic. The IIHS states that large trucks outweigh passenger vehicles by 20 to 30 times. Due to this weight differential and their braking design, trucks need a much larger stopping distance than smaller vehicles, especially during inclement weather. The height and ground clearance of trucks can also make rollovers and under-ride crashes likelier.

In addition to these characteristics, trucks have much larger blind spots than other vehicles. The front, rear and driver's side blind spots are longer than the length of a typical car. The passenger's side blind spot runs the entire length of the tractor-trailer and can extend over multiple lanes.

Best practices for drivers

Drivers should keep these issues in mind and adjust their driving habits appropriately when operating their vehicles near large trucks. Specific proactive measures that drivers should take to avoid commercial vehicle accidents include:

· Staying out of blind spots. Motorists should pass large trucks quickly on the driver's side and always avoid passing on the passenger's side.

· Allowing an adequate following distance. This can reduce the risk of under-ride accidents as well as crashes that occur when a truck obstructs a driver's view of approaching road hazards or traffic conditions.

· Leaving enough space when passing. Drivers should never merge in front of a truck until they can see the entire vehicle in the rearview mirror.

Drivers should also be aware that large trucks often make unusual maneuvers, which may be difficult to anticipate. These can include swinging wide to execute a turn in the opposite direction; stopping at railroad tracks before proceeding; and backing into loading docks. Both in town and on highways, motorists should leave extra space around trucks to accommodate these maneuvers.

Acting after an accident

Unfortunately, these measures may not prevent every accident, particularly if a truck driver is acting negligently. Sadly, such incidents may not be uncommon. In 2016, over one-quarter of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspections of commercial vehicles that were performed in Virginia found safety violations, such as speeding, ignoring traffic control devices or violating hours-of-service regulations.

The victims of accidents involving these violations or other reckless behaviors may be eligible for recompense to address their medical bills, pain and suffering, lost income and more. To improve the likelihood of receiving adequate compensation, victims may want to seek the help of an attorney who has experience handling these serious accident cases.

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