One second the car is there, the next it’s out of sight. It’s the highway’s greatest magic trick, the ability to hide a car in plain sight.
Regardless of how many times you’ve witnessed the act, blind spots can fool even the most cautious of drivers on the road. Brian Runnels, Reliance Partners’ vice president of safety, and Robert Kaferle, the director of safety, remind drivers to double-check — if not triple-check — their mirrors before changing lanes.
“I would always tell my students that they could gain a bit more visibility by rocking forward in their seat to get a better look,” Runnels said. “It won’t cover the whole blind spot, but it will give you more visibility than what you had initially.”
Semi trucks are notorious for their blind spots, which obstruct the driver’s view to an extent on all sides of the vehicle. The most obvious blind spots are directly in front of the vehicle and directly behind the trailer. Those following too close to a truck or cruise directly in front of it are often invisible to the trucker.
The blind spots to the sides of the truck are where things get interesting. The left-hand side, or the driver’s side of the truck, has obstructed views directly beside the driver’s door extending midway down the trailer.
The right-hand side, however, has a larger blind spot, one that extends farther down and away to the right. In fact, this blind spot often pervades two lanes. Runnels said that many lane-change accidents occur when making right-to-left lane changes because the blind spot is so big.
Runnels suggests truckers can minimize the number of blind spots to manage by creating as much space around the vehicle as possible. This includes maintaining a large follow distance with the vehicle in front and remaining in the lane farthest right when possible. “The driver’s side mirror offers much more visibility so you’ll only have to worry about three sides of your vehicle instead of four,” he said.
“My wife has been in this game for a long time,” Runnels said. “Sitting here beside me in the truck, she made a good comment: ‘If you can’t see the driver’s mirror, they can’t see you.’”
Kaferle approaches blind spot safety with tools and technology in mind. He recommends fleets equip trucks with additional hood mirrors and passenger-side look-down mirrors for increased visibility.
“Spec’ing your vehicle is incredibly important for fleets, utilizing as many mirrors, blind spot sensors and telematics devices as possible,” Kaferle said.
It’s also important to make sure that mirrors are clean and properly adjusted. Runnels added that installing rear-view cameras is never a bad idea.
But drivers should not rely solely on devices themselves. Kaferle instead recommends treating them as supplemental aids. He argues that blind trust in blind spot sensors is unwise because they’re sometimes faulty.
This is why training is so important. The more a driver is familiar in handling these situations, the easier it becomes to recognize driving patterns and signs that a car might be in your zone.
“Sometimes you’ll never see a vehicle in your blind spot, but you’ll see a shadow of that vehicle depending on which way you’re traveling and the time of day,” Kaferle said, alluding to the benefits of experience.
But road safety is a two-way street; general motorists can do their part in avoiding being unseen. Kaferle urges drivers not to linger around semi trucks but to simply pass them at an appropriate speed.
Motorists are encouraged to always use the left lane when passing commercial motor vehicles.
Drive with caution around large vehicles and be alert of the truck’s brake lights and turn signals to get an idea of its intended movements. Remember that a truck driver cannot see you if you can’t see his or her face in the mirror.
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