Last updated: August 2022

Do’s & Don’ts: Tips for Safely Passing a Semi-Truck

If you're new to driving, or even if you've been logging time behind the wheel for quite a while, the sight of semi-truck can be intimidating, particularly when it's necessary to pass them. Does the truck driver see you? Are they tired? Are they going to start drifting into your lane? It's normal to be a little apprehensive. After all, semi-trucks weigh much more than the average car, and the consequences of a crash with a large truck tend to be much more severe for people in passenger vehicles, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But you don't have to drive in fear when passing 18-wheelers. Here are some helpful do's and don'ts in order to safely pass a large truck.

Important Things to Know About Semi-Trucks 

Before we discuss what you should and shouldn't do when passing a semi-truck, let's look at some basic facts that shape the way we should drive around them. Here are a few important things to remember:

  • It takes them much more time to stop: If a truck driver has to slam on the brakes, it will take them a much longer time to come to a stop than a passenger vehicle. A truck moving at 65 miles per hour while carrying a full load in its trailer will travel two football fields before coming to a stop, and that's in good driving conditions, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). If the truck weighs more or if the driving conditions are poor, the stopping distance will increase even more.
  • A semi-truck's blind spots are bigger than yours: Due to their sheer size, large trucks have larger blind spots. They need you to follow behind them at a greater distance, and if you can't see the truck driver in their side mirrors, they probably can't see you, according to the FMCSA.
  • Truck drivers may be tired: While there are limits on how long truck drivers can spend behind the wheel without a break, they still drive for long stretches and up to 70 hours in an eight-day period. With such long hours, it's no surprise that 34% of drivers reported feeling very drowsy, according to one national survey.

When passing a large truck, you should... 

Need to get around a semi-truck safely? Here are some things you should do, according to 911 Driving School:

  • Try to remain visible to truck drivers: Before attempting to pass, try to remain visible at all times. Follow at a safe distance. Try to remain where you can see the driver in the side mirrors. If a truck driver has a general idea of where you are before you attempt to pass, it could help prevent a crash. If you're suddenly no longer visible in their mirrors, they might realize you've entered one of their blind spots, causing them to be more cautious.
  • Pass on the left side: While it's not always illegal to pass on the right side, we typically pass other vehicles on the left side. You can keep yourself, truckers, and other drivers safe by using the normal passing lane and avoiding surprises. Passing on the left also means you're passing on the side of the driver's mirror, hopefully maximizing visibility.
  • Pass at a safe, steady speed: When passing a semi-truck, do not linger in the lane beside them. As we've discussed, trucks have large blind spots, and the less time you spend in them, the better. Always keep it moving! Did you know that some states even allow you to speed slightly when passing slow-moving vehicles?
  • Make sure you're well beyond the truck before getting back over: After you pass the truck, you want to make sure there's plenty of room for you to reenter that lane. Look in your rearview mirror and make sure you can see the entire front of the semi-truck. Remember, their brakes don't slow down their vehicle as quickly as yours, so if you have any doubt, leave extra space.

When passing a large truck, you should NOT… 

Wondering what to avoid when passing a semi-truck? Well, here are some things you absolutely should not do.

  • Assume the truck knows where you are: Even if you do your best to follow the guidance above to remain visible, you can't assume the truck driver knows exactly where you are.
  • Pass on the right: We don't typically pass on the right, so definitely avoid passing a truck on the right, particularly since visibility is limited on that side.
  • Give your attention to anything other than the road: You should always avoid distracted driving, but considering the size of one of the vehicles involved in this scenario, the consequences of a distracted-driving accident could be much more severe than normal. You need to be prepared to act if the truck starts to enter your lane, and you should avoid any behavior that could lead to you causing a crash.
  • Panic: Try to remain calm at all times. If the truck starts to enter your lane, be prepared to brake and give them room to get over. Give a light honk if needed. But try not to panic or swerve.

Other Helpful Driving Advice:

Passing a large truck is just one small part of driving. Looking for some other ways to improve your skills behind the wheel? Check out these blogs:

And as always, if you're new to driving and trying to find an auto insurer that's right for you, we'd love to talk! Direct Auto offers low rates, great services, and flexible payment options to all of our customers. Give us a call or to stop by one of our Direct Auto locations to talk about what type of policy you need.

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