Man looking perplexedTrucking Questions

Have you ever noticed something that a trucker does and wondered why they did that? It’s not uncommon. After all, these are large vehicles, and it might not be obvious, without experience, why professional drivers do certain things.

Trucking is a weird profession to most outside observers. As professional drivers, trucking is more a lifestyle than a job. Yes, it’s a job we get paid to do, but while we’re on the road, it’s a 24/7 lifestyle. There is the comradery between drivers, and truck drivers have multiple ways to communicate with each other. We have to perform unusual maneuvers for safety, and it’s helpful if our fellow motorists understand certain operations and realities of driving a big truck.

Let’s take a look at several questions we get asked from time to time.

Why do semi trucks drive in the middle lane?

Professional drivers often prefer the middle lane for safety reasons. Taking the middle lane offer two advantages for large vehicles. First, the center lane offers more escape routes in case of an emergency. Believe it or not, truck drivers are trained to constantly have escape routes while they drive, which makes sense as it takes close to two football fields to stop from highway speeds.

The center lane also keeps us out of the way of merging traffic. An over-the-road truck is between 70 & 72 feet in length, bumper to bumper. That’s a lot of real estate to occupy when slower vehicles are attempting to merge.

The center lane also reduces the interactions with other motorists, and vehicle interactions are where accidents happen. Travelling in the center lane is both a safety measure and a courtesy to other motorists.

Why do truck drivers get into the left lane, even when they are not passing anyone?

Truck drivers are trained to look as far ahead as possible due to the lack of maneuverability and the distance it takes to stop a semi. What this essentially means is that professional drivers must anticipate upcoming events unfolding in front of them. When a truck driver is seemingly hanging out in the left lane, it’s usually because they have seen something up ahead and they moved out of the way in advance.

Why do truckers make wide right turns?

Trucks need lots of space to maneuver. As the man said, give me forty-acres, and I’ll turn this rig around. While that’s a slight exaggeration, it sometimes feels like an understatement.

The trailer axles take a tighter path than the power unit on a combination vehicle. Drivers will veer left and turn back to the right sharply to give the trailer axles enough room to clear obstacles on the right-hand side of the vehicle. This is referred to as a “Button Hook” turn. A basic calculation that professional drivers use is it takes the equivalent of the width of four lanes to make a 90-degree turn. That’s an oversimplification, but it’s a useful rule of thumb that drivers use.

Diagram showing the trail off-track on a highway semi truck.

Image courtesy of the US department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration

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