How to keep safe sharing the roadways with big rigs

A new Georgia law raises the weight limit of tractor-trailers hauling agricultural and timber products in the state. In March, the legislature gave final passage to House Bill 189, which would allow a weight limit of 88,000 pounds for trucks hauling agricultural and forest commodities. The current limit on state roads is 80,000 pounds, but trucks are allowed a variance of up to 84,000 pounds. The move allows for a revenue boost for certain industries including food suppliers and loggers. But it also has drivers throughout the Peach State concerned about heightened safety risks – and with good reason.

Research published by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety earlier this year reveals startling statistics:  

  • In 2021, 14 percent of all traffic fatalities in Georgia involved at least one large truck. More than 240 persons were fatally injured, a four-percent rise from 153 fatalities in 2020.
  • Among all the traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries involving large trucks, the vast majority (76 percent) were occupants of other vehicles. Sixteen percent were the large truck operators themselves; three percent were their passengers; and five percent were non-motorists.
  • Eighty-six percent of crashes that involved large trucks were multi-vehicle crashes. They caused 92 percent of serious injuries and 86 percent of all fatalities.
  • Large truck operators losing control was the top contributing factor for single-vehicle crashes – 30 percent of operators lost control of their vehicle moments before colliding with another object that was not another vehicle.

Federal statistics echo those concerns. Heavier trucks with six axles – both 91,000-pound and 97,000-pound configurations – were found to have higher crash rates in state testing:

  • Idaho: 99 percent higher crash rates for six-axle trucks up to 97,000 pounds
  • Michigan: 400 percent higher crash rates for six-axle trucks up to 97,000 pounds
  • Washington: 47 percent higher crash rates for six-axle trucks up to 91,000 pounds

Critics of the new law also point to faster deterioration of roadways caused by the added weight. Of top concern are county roads and bridges where tractor trailers are likely to cause the most damage and where communities often lack adequate funds for repair and maintenance.

Of course, big rigs will always be an integral part of the nation’s supply chain system. The trucking industry is among its largest economic engines, contributing over $700 billion in annual revenue to the GDP, with the local freight trucking industry valued at $91.7 billion in 2023. It is responsible for transporting 70 percent of all goods in the United States and employs roughly 6 percent of the nation’s workforce, including an estimated 3.5 million truck drivers who operate more than 4 million trucks moving 10.5 billion tons of freight each year. Clearly, it is a critically important industry, but the safety of those sharing the roadways is critical as well.

These behemoths of the highway require a different level of awareness and caution from other motorists. To ensure a safe and smooth journey for everyone, here are five essential tips for navigating the roads alongside these colossal vehicles.

  1. Maintain a safe following distance: One of the cardinal rules for driving around large trucks is to keep a safe following distance. Commercial trucks, due to their size and weight, require more time and distance to come to a complete stop. Experts recommend maintaining a following distance of at least one car length for every 10 miles per hour you’re traveling. This allows both you and the truck driver ample time to react to sudden changes in traffic conditions.
  2. Avoid blind spots: Large trucks have extensive blind spots, often referred to as “no-zones.” These areas exist on the sides, front and rear of the truck where the driver’s visibility is limited. To stay safe, avoid lingering in these blind spots and make a conscious effort to position your vehicle where the truck driver can easily see you. If you can’t see the truck driver in their side mirrors, chances are they can’t see you either.
  3. Be mindful of turning trucks: Commercial trucks, especially those with trailers, have a much wider turning radius than smaller vehicles. Be cautious when driving near a turning truck, especially at intersections. Give them plenty of space to make their turns safely, and never attempt to squeeze between a turning truck and the curb. Patience is key when sharing the road with these large vehicles.
  4. Pass with care: When passing a commercial truck, do so with caution and precision. Always pass on the left side and signal your intention well in advance. Remember that it takes longer for a truck to brake, so ensure there’s enough space between your vehicle and the truck before merging back into the lane. Avoid cutting too close in front of a truck, as their stopping distance is significantly longer than that of smaller vehicles.
  5. Be aware of weather conditions: Inclement weather can amplify the challenges of sharing the road with commercial trucks. Rain, strong winds and iced roads in the wintertime can impact a truck’s stability and maneuverability. Exercise extra caution during adverse weather conditions and allow trucks additional space and time to navigate the road safely. Reduced visibility and slippery road surfaces make it crucial to adjust your driving speed accordingly.

Undoubtedly, the debate over the safety and wellbeing of Georgia’s drivers vs. the economic impact of heavier trucks on our roads will continue and we may well see further legislative changes. In any case, it’s more important than ever to make sure you and your family know how to stay safe on the roadways.

If you or a loved one have been affected by a trucking accident in Georgia, seeking legal guidance is crucial. Contact Douglas, Georgia’s Farrar Hennesy and Tanner at 912-384-2287 or request a free case review and virtual legal consultation online. Safety should remain paramount on our roads, and navigating toward a solution that balances economic vitality and community safety is essential in this ongoing dialogue about truck weights in Georgia.