Sharing the Road with Tractor Trailers

Ever wonder what the chances are of surviving a collision with a tractor-trailer? A great many factors would determine the outcome. The most significant of these are the size, speed and weight of the tractor-trailer, the state of alertness of the truck driver, and the prevailing road and weather conditions.

By learning some defensive driving techniques to help circumvent the dangers these enormous vehicles pose, you can greatly increase your chances of staying safe and avoid an accident when you share the highway with them.

Keep Your Distance

Semi trucks with trailers can weigh over 80,000 pounds, or 25 to 40 times more than most cars. This incredible amount of weight means it is impossible for them to quickly come to a complete stop. Further, they cannot maneuver easily, so their ability to change lanes or avoid an obstruction on the highway is seriously impeded. Therefore, always keep a safe distance from any tractor-trailer. Never change lanes abruptly, or forget to use your turn signals near these large trucks.

When passing a semi truck, do it quickly to minimize the amount of time you will be driving alongside them. When passing a truck pulling a trailer, the trailer could swerve into your lane unexpectedly. Stay a safe distance behind the rig (a minimum four-second following distance) in case pieces of tire tread or any other parts of the truck fall off and into your path.

Assume the Truck Driver Cannot See You or Hear You

The driver of a truck cannot see you if you cannot see the driver in one of the truck’s rear view mirrors. Even then, assume the driver is tired or not paying attention.

Big rigs have large blind spots, called “no zones.” This means a truck driver many not see your vehicle when you are behind or to the side of the truck. Equally important is to pay close attention when the truck is signally to turn, and to its brake lights.

Never assume the truck driver will be able to hear your horn. A music system, radio, air conditioning, or typical truck noise may prevent the driver from hearing sounds outside of the truck cab.

When Stopping, Pull Way Off the Road

Truck drivers are conditioned to follow traffic. A driver who is tired and not paying attention could inadvertently drive directly into your vehicle without realizing you have stopped, particularly at night. If you cannot get your car far enough from away from the highway, it may be best to get out of your vehicle and stay as far away from it as possible. If visibility is poor due to smoke, fog, snow, rain or dust, or at night, turn your lights off so other drivers will not assume your vehicle is in motion on the highway.

Be Cautious During Adverse Road Conditions

When sharing the road with tractor-trailers, all precautionary measures become far more critical during adverse or unusual driving conditions. One reason is that big rigs are particularly susceptible to bad weather, detours, heavy traffic, construction zones, roads in need of repair, or atypical road conditions such as exit ramps, bridges, obstructions in the road, or sharp curves. Be extra cautious when driving near any tractor-trailer under these circumstances.

Understanding the challenges posed by tractor trailers will greatly increase your chances of keeping you and your family safe when you’re on the road.

Pledge to Stop on Red

How often have you noticed another vehicle speeding past you or accelerating through a yellow light, only to find both of you waiting at the next stop?

Exceeding the speed limit to “beat the light” is illegal and could result in dire consequences.

According to the National Coalition for Safer Roads, in 2013, 127,000 people were injured and 697 people were killed in accidents caused by red light runners. Between 2004 and 2012, more than 7,000 people were killed in accidents involving drivers running red lights.

In Arizona, red light running is a serious problem. The National Coalition for Safer Roads ranked cities with the highest number of fatalities due to red-light running from 2004-2013. Tucson ranked 9th and Phoenix ranked second on the list of the 10 Most Dangerous Cities for Red Light Running.

And like drivers in DUI accidents, the red light runner who causes a collision isn’t always the one most seriously injured. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that half the fatalities caused by red light runners are pedestrians, bicyclists and occupants in other vehicles.

Who is the Typical Red Light Runner?

What driver is most likely to be running a red light? A 1996 study by the National Insurance Institute found that the red light runners were younger drivers who had poor driving records. In a 2013 study of red light running car crashes that involved fatalities, the Institute found that “the red light runners were more likely than other drivers to be male, to be younger, and to have prior crashes or alcohol-impaired driving convictions.”

Know the Red Light Rule in Arizona

Arizona applies the “permissive yellow rule” to red light running infractions. The Federal Highway Administration defines the rule as:

  • Driver can legally enter intersection during entire yellow interval
  • Violation occurs if driver enters intersection after onset of red

The ramifications of causing a car accident at an intersection can be catastrophic for its victims and result in serious consequences for the offending driver. A driver who is found to have been recklessly speeding through an intersection, running a red light and causing a fatal car accident puts himself at risk of being charged with manslaughter or negligent homicide.

Research on driver attitudes towards red light running shows that there’s a disconnect between what most drivers know they should be doing and what they actually do.

A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that although more than half of drivers interviewed agreed red light running is a “very serious threat” and more than 72% agreed it is “unacceptable,” more than a third of drivers admitted to running a red light in the previous 30 days.

Experts say that to stop red light running, drivers need to slow down, limit distractions, and stop on red. It may save lives.



Exploding Jeeps: A Lesson Not Learned From the Ford Pinto

Remember the popular Ford Pinto that turned out to be a deadly ride if rear-ended?

In 1970, Ford decided to move ahead with production of their new Pinto, even though their engineering crash tests showed it had a flawed design that would cause the gas tank to explode if the car was hit from behind. An estimated 500 people died in rear-end collisions involving Pintos.

A hauntingly similar problem involves Chrysler’s Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty SUVs, which are designed with cheap plastic fuel tanks that can easily rupture in rear-end collisions because the tank is positioned between the rear axle and the bumper. Like the Pinto, these exploding Jeeps have caused death and destruction on America’s roads.

NHTSA Fails to Protect Jeep Passengers

In 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began an investigation of the Jeep Grand Cherokee model years 1993-2004 and the Jeep Liberty model years 2002-2007. NHTSA’s investigation found at least 37 accidents and 51 wrongful deaths were related to the Jeep SUV’s gas tank issue. Even though NHTSA estimated 5.1 million vehicles were affected, they ordered a voluntary recall of only 2.7 million Jeeps in June 2013.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles immediately resisted the order, announcing their vehicles were safe and disputing the number of deaths attributed to the problem. Two weeks later Fiat Chrysler acquiesced but stated they would only recall 1.56 million vehicles.

Sergio Marchionni, the CEO of Fiat Chrysler, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and the head of NHTSA, David Strickland, met in the summer of 2013 to determine how Chrysler would correct the problem. They agreed that Chrysler would install a trailer hitch to the recalled vehicles.

However, the agreement allowed Chrysler to install fake, non-functioning trailer hitches. They would not provide wiring capabilities to connect trailer brakes, nor were these hitches capable of safely towing trailers or loads. In fact, dealers were instructed to tell vehicle owners not to use the trailer hitches for any type of towing. Worse, their engineers knew that the hitch would provide almost no safety improvement in crashes over 20 miles per hour.

Today, only about a third of the recalled Jeeps have been retrofitted with the tow hitch because of a delay in manufacturing the part.

Jeep a Tragic Ride Back to the Future

Over four decades ago, Ford proceeded with production of the Pinto after an internal “cost analysis” determined that it would be more expensive to correct the gas tank’s flawed design than to pay out catastrophic injury and wrongful death settlements. After the truth was exposed in an article by Mother Jones, a mandatory recall was ordered, and lawsuits and criminal charges ensued. It took the Ford corporation years to repair its reputation.

Last week, a Georgia jury awarded $150 million in a wrongful death verdict to the family of a 4-year-old boy who was killed in 2012 when the Jeep Grand Cherokee he was riding in exploded after being rear-ended. The fuel tank was punctured during the crash and leaked fuel which ignited, burning the young boy to death in the back seat of the vehicle.

The death of the 4-year-old boy is just one of at least 50 deaths that are attributed to the Jeeps’ fuel tank issue. Consumers are now left questioning the failure of this corporation along with the regulatory agency that let these vehicles remain on the road.

NHTSA in Bed with Big Auto

NHTSA claims that consumer safety is their number one priority. But if that is to be believed, why did they allow Chrysler to negotiate the number of vehicles to be recalled, putting corporate profits ahead of consumer safety? Why was Chrysler allowed to proceed with an inadequate fix of their SUVs, and why have they been allowed to drag their feet bringing in the defective vehicles to install this very inadequate fix?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that David Strickland, who stepped down as the head of NHTSA in 2014, now works as a lobbyist for a law firm that represents auto manufacturers, and which counts Chrysler as one of its clients.

Corporations need to be held accountable. The subordination of human safety to corporate profits is an issue that should have been resolved with the Ford Pinto litigation in the ‘70s. A $150 million wrongful death verdict may be the only way Chrysler will feel pressured to improve its vehicles, and it will send a message to other auto makers that they will be held accountable. An even stronger message can be sent by the Court by preserving the jury verdict and forcing Fiat Chrysler to pay the family every last cent of the $150 million award.

Consumers who own a recalled Jeep SUV may file complaints with the Center for Auto Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Office of Defects Investigations at


GM Recalls Vehicles that Pose Fire Danger

General Motors is in the middle of the largest safety crisis in automobile history. Over the past year, GM has issued 62 recalls, affecting 29 million vehicles. The most serious safety defect, caused by faulty ignition switches that spontaneously disengage while the car is in motion, have resulted in at least 23 deaths.

In the latest recall issued last month, GM targets over 221,000 Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impalas for brake pads that stayed engaged after the driver’s foot was off the pedal. GM said the problem was caused by the “electronic parking brake arm that applies pressure to the back of the brake pads not fully retracting after use.” This malfunction could lead to increased friction between the brake pads and the rotor, and could cause a fire.

Models years affected by the recall include 2013-2015 Cadillac’s XTS’ and 2014-2015 Impalas.

Another GM recall that involves vehicles with defects that pose a fire danger was announced last June. 189,000 SUVs are included in the recall that targets window switches that can catch on fire. GM admitted that the problem is caused when water leaks into the door panels where the switches are located, resulting in rust that can cause short circuits and overheating, and possibly fires. At least 28 vehicles have been reported to have caught on fire.

Recalled models include 2006 and 2007 Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy, Buick Rainer, Isuzu Ascender, and Saab 97-X.

GM anticipated the parts for the repairs to be available in October. Until their SUVs are repaired, GM is advising owners they should park their SUVs in open areas and not in garages or carports. GM has also advised dealers not to sell affected used SUVs until the part is replaced.

Before placing yourself and your family at risk of being in a car accident or other danger, find out about GM recalls at the GM Recall Center or the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration recall website at .

Does Your Car Have a Black Box?

For over a century the development of the automobile has been a symbol of freedom and independence. A new government rule that takes effect this fall may change Americans’ perceptions of their carefree mode of transportation.

Beginning September 1, 2014, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration will require that all new vehicles have an Event Data Recorder, or a Black Box, as some may refer to it.

Some automakers, like GM, began putting EDRs in cars as early as 1996. Learning that the car you drive has been recording your movements might be a bit disconcerting.  Some may even feel their privacy is somehow being invaded.

EDRs measure and record events up to five seconds before a collision, including force of impact, engine speed, vehicle speed, direction, steering input, airbag deployment, safety belt usage, acceleration position and braking status.

The data collected by EDRs is increasingly being used in lawsuits and in high profile motor vehicle accidents. However, obtaining the data may be a tricky endeavor. Law enforcement agencies may have to obtain a search warrant and insurance companies may need a court order, unless the owner consents to the retrieval of the data.

In the near future, the black box data from accident vehicles may allow insurance companies to potentially change drivers’ rates and perhaps the liability the insurance company claims when you are involved in an accident.

The newly mandated rule by NHTSA should be a greater incentive for consumers to practice better and safer driving, making any data collected by a black box to work in their favor in the event of an accident.

Dust Storm Safety: Pull Aside, Stay Alive

Driving through dangerous dust storms is always a risk when driving on Arizona highways.

These sudden and blinding storms can cause serious motor vehicle accidents within a matter of seconds.

Every year there are numerous dust-storm-related crashes, especially along the dusty I-10 corridor that commuters use to get from Tucson to Phoenix.

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Pull Aside, Stay Alive campaign, here is how to stay safe if you are caught in a dust storm:

  • Check traffic around you and slow your vehicle.
  • Pull off of the roadway as soon as possible. Do not stop in the emergency lane–pull off of the paved roadway.
  • Set your emergency brake, and take your foot off of the brake once you are completely stopped.
  • Stay in your vehicle with your seatbelt buckled until the storm passes.

Prevent being in a dust storm accident in Arizona. To find out about current road conditions or to receive high impact traffic alerts visit, or call 511 within Arizona.