This being driver’s ed, the dose of math came as a surprise.
If an 80,000-pound big rig is traveling two miles per hour, how fast does the SUV beside it have to go to achieve the same momentum?
“Thirty miles per hour?” a student in the driver’s ed class at Sentinel High School finally ventured Friday morning.
Close, said Shannon Crist of Sorensen Transport. The SUV would have to go 40 mph.
Now switch the equation around and imagine how much longer it would take the truck to stop if both vehicles were moving at highway speeds. The semi would travel the length of a football field before it finally stopped rolling, he said.
Translation: You don’t want to be in its way.
That, basically, was the point of Friday’s Share the Road program presented to the driver’s ed students.
Share the Road, developed by the American Trucking Association, aims to educate new drivers about the challenges of navigating near big trucks.
Accidents resulting from being in a truck’s blind spot cause just over a third of all fatalities involving big trucks, Crist said. Eliminate those, and 1,300 lives a year would be saved, he told the students – some of whom had snoozed through an educational video, but by this point were paying close attention.
The film and program outlined five rules:
Don’t cut off a truck. If you both have to stop suddenly, that math problem the students worked out is going to come into play. It won’t go well for you.
Stay out of the blind spots – which include not just the sides but the areas directly in front of and behind the truck, and are far larger than you might imagine.
Follow at a distance. Cars don’t fare well when they crash into the backs of trucks, as gruesome photos of cars sheared off to door height showed. The impact generally destroys “an area (of the car) that’s catastrophic to its occupants,” the video announcer intoned.
Keep in mind that trucks make wide turns, often swinging into adjacent lanes. You don’t want to be in that lane. (Especially if you’re in the truck’s blind spot.)
And, if you have to stop for any reason, pull well off the side of the road. Truck drivers live in fear of the driver who barely pulls onto the shoulder and then opens his door just as the truck comes barreling past, Crist said.
Most of the car-truck collisions Montana Highway Patrol Officer Philip Smart sees are the car’s fault, Smart told the students. “And for the most part, believe it or not, it’s people not seeing the truck,” especially when cars are merging onto interstates, he said.
Trucks “can’t stop that quickly, they can’t change course that quickly. You just have to stay out of their way,” he said.
Kevin Ernst, safety director for the Motor Carriers of Montana, urged students to respect trucks, not fear them. After all, he said, “Trucks bring good things. Everything you have, your toothpaste, your food, all the stuff you like, all is carried here by trucks. So we have to share the road.”
Afterward, students climbed into a couple of rigs parked in the school lot to get a feel for what a truck driver sees.
Kelby Page, driver training director at Watkins Shepard Trucking Inc., let each student get settled in the driver’s seat of his 53-foot dry van and then told them, one by one, to look into their side mirrors for the white car. One after another, they asked, “What white car?”
The car, parked squarely in the truck’s blind spot, always came as a surprise when the students stepped back down from the cab. “It was definitely a good realization. When I drive by a truck, I didn’t realize they couldn’t see me,” said 17-year-old Brendan Julian, who will be a senior at Sentinel this year.
Students liked the creature comforts of Page’s truck, with its sleeper and fridge.
Crist’s LCV, a longer combination vehicle hauling a tanker and a pup, impressed with its sheer size. At nearly 120 feet long, it weighs more than 80,000 pounds.
“It’s actually really cool but kind of scary,” Kayla Griggs, 17, who just graduated from Hellgate High, said of Friday’s presentation. “Because you seriously can’t see a car behind you.”
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @CopsAndCourts.