Managing Speed and Space


Date: October 26, 2021

Linda Lake, Risk Control Consultant

Defensive Driving for Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver 

As a defensive driver, managing speed and space is crucial for preventing accidents. According to FMCSA, the average stopping distance for a loaded tractor-trailer traveling at 55 mph (in ideal conditions) is 196 feet, compared with 133 feet for a passenger vehicle. Defensive drivers must account for the road condition, visibility, and traffic speed and flow.

Driving Conditions

A tractor-trailer is a large truck. Excluding buses and motor homes, large trucks are vehicles over 10,000 gross vehicle weight rating. Both commercial and noncommercial trucks are included in the large truck category. In 2019, the National Safety Council reported large truck crashes involving a fatality increased by 2% from 2018 and 43% since 2010. The majority of deaths are the other vehicle's occupants, 71%, and 11% non-occupants such as pedestrians and bicyclists. Overall, large trucks accounted for 10% of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes, with over half on rural roads during daylight hours.

Speeding, fatigue, and distractions are the top causes of large truck crashes. Cargo securement can also be a factor that can impact the stability of the truck. Road conditions such as rain, snow, ice, loose road surfaces, and time of day cause a reduction in traction and visibility. Creating a space on all four sides will allow you to stop safely and take necessary evasive action. Creating space during rush hour is not always feasible but is ideal. Overall considerations to reduce crashes include:

  • Increase your following distance to avoid a rear-end collision.
  • Use emergency flashers to warn other drivers you are slowing down.
  • Be aware that intersections may also include alleys, driveways, parking lots, etc. Alleys, driveways, and others areas may have bushes that limit visibility. Looking ahead and side to side combined with slower speeds will help to reduce vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclist crashes at intersections. Remember, over half of all large truck crashes occur in rural areas!
  • Plan your route to know what lane is needed for a turn ahead of time.
  • Get plenty of rest to avoid erratic driving.

Maintain Proper Distance 

Vehicle Ahead

Drivers can prevent an accident by maintaining a safe following distance, regardless of the abrupt or unexpected stop of the vehicle ahead. One rule of thumb is to allow at least one second for every 10 feet of vehicle length at speeds below 40mph. Increased speed and weight require extra time. 

Drivers, in general, tend to travel in "wolf packs" bunched together. If the lead driver hits the breaks, cars may scatter to avoid or be involved in a collision due to following too close. Be the lone wolf and establish the following distances based on the traffic and speed. 

At stoplights, be sure to stop behind the crosswalk to not force pedestrians into the lane of travel. If you are the first in line, look left, right, and left again to clear the intersection. If you have a vehicle in front of you, stop so you can see the back tires. Leaving space allows for an out if the person in front becomes stalled. Be aware of signals before stoplights that give warning of an upcoming red light. 

Vehicle Behind

It is impossible to prevent other drivers from following too closely. By increasing your following distance, you are adjusting for the tailgater. It also may provide the tailgater an opportunity to pass. Stay in the right lane except to pass. If you want to pass, ask yourself; Is it safe? Is it legal? Does it make sense?

As a commercial driver, you have an essential role in America's economy. We appreciate your commitment to safety and implementing safe driving behaviors! Want to learn more about how BITCO can help train your drivers? Click the "Find an Agent" button below and locate an agent near you.

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For information purposes only. BITCO's blog content does not address all potential circumstances and is not a substitute for business, safety, or legal consultation.

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