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Identifying Road Hazards

by Holly Plude - Published: 5/10/2017
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What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear “road hazard?” Are you picturing a large pothole or a tree limb in the middle of the road? It is true, those are both road hazards, however, there are a number of other hazards to consider.

Why would it be important to know all the types of road hazards? Simply put, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. If you know what to look for, you know what to avoid. This will be a key way to prevent accidents on the road.

Areas you will commonly encounter road hazards include work zones, pavement drop-offs, objects lying in the road, off ramps, on ramps, and passenger vehicles. These potential hazards may be a danger to drivers. However, with the proper knowledge, they are easily avoided.

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Work Zones

You’ve all heard the jokes. Ones like, “Michigan has two seasons – winter and construction.” Or the old chestnut, “orange barrels are Michigan’s State Flower.” We all get a chuckle out of them. But in all seriousness, work zones can really present a hazard to your trucking job.

As lanes narrow, trucks often see passenger vehicles seemingly desperately want to get in front of you before the work zone begins. This leads to a passenger vehicle speeding up alongside you and then cutting in front of you as the lane they are in ends. Often times, they cut in front of you in your blind spot. That means if they hit their brakes, you cannot see that and you could rear end them.

Through a work zone the lanes themselves may be narrowed and there may be sand-based orange barrels running on both sides of the lane. Some work zones may see workers present as well as moving construction equipment.

Your best tactic is to drive slowly, while keeping your eyes moving constantly. Use your four-ways if you will be driving slower than the posted work zone speed limit to let drivers behind you know that you are encountering a situation that does not allow you to proceed at normal speed.

Pavement Drop-Offs

Driving through West Virginia, through the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, and along I-5 in California, you will encounter portions of road where the pavement simply drops off sharply on the side of the road. There are no guard rails, fencing, or other barriers in place.

These are not insurmountable hazards. Simply take your time. Again, keep your eyes moving. And let your speed reflect your level of awareness for the area, even if that means driving slower than the posted speed limit. In these situations, safety is more important than expediency

Objects In The Road

There is an old urban myth that boxes in the road could contain valuable goods and running over them could be a waste of a fortune. While most boxes will not hold fortunes, boxes in the road do present a hazard, as do other objects. You do not know what is in the box. If it fell out of a vehicle it could have any number of items in it that could in turn damage your tires or rims, or even catch on your brake lines. A blown tire or blown brake line could have fatal consequences. Your best defense is to steer around any objects lying in the road. Never presume that you’re “bigger than it” so it couldn’t possibly cause you any harm.

In some parts of the country, the “objects” can be more than a cardboard box – they can be living, breathing livestock that have wandered out of a field or somehow broken through a fence from a nearby farm. It is not uncommon for Texas drivers to see a cow stray from the herd from a nearby cattle ranch, for example. It’s important to recognize that these animals will not often see the impending danger that a truck imposes, so extreme caution must be used when one sees sheep, cows, or horses on the road.


It’s also important for drivers to recognize when animals haven’t simply escaped but are being herded by farmers across a road. No farmer wants his livelihood startled or endangered because a driver assumes livestock has simply escaped and needs be scared off the road.

Ramps

How many on and off ramps has your truck driving job taken you past? What kind of habits do you see from other drivers? There have been tales of new drivers who will stop at the end of the on-ramp and wait for traffic to clear before merging on to the highway. Talk about a road hazard! All that situation would require is one furious motorist behind them who decides to run up over the curb and go around them to merge on to the highway. In such a state of heightened anger it is easy to stop thinking clearly and not do something simple, like check for other vehicles. That could lead to a serious accident.

Other unsafe behaviors around ramps include someone on an off-ramp and then suddenly swerving back on to the highway, or a driver in the far left lane who crosses all lanes of traffic to exit the highway.

Distracted Drivers

Recently, a story in the news concerned a motorist who was on their cell phone and clearly not paying attention when he ran into the back of a trucker’s semi-trailer. While all parties involved were able to walk away from the accident, the passenger in the car lost her right arm. This motorist was behind the trucker so he could not really have done anything differently. However, if you have a motorist in front of you that you can tell his on his/her cell phone, be cautious! Individuals on their cell phones lose track of time quickly. What they think is two seconds can quickly become 30 or even 45 seconds. You can drive an entire football field in that distance. It’s scary to think of the lackadaisical attitude motorists have, but you can be mindful of these by surveying abnormal behavior or driving patterns.

Slow Drivers

The bane of any trucker’s existence is the slow driver. Whether you are on an interstate or city street, having that one car that can’t seem to go faster than 10 miles under the speed limit can be maddening. On city streets these are drivers who could be looking for an address (be prepared for them to brake quickly), out-of-towners, be on their cell phone, drunk, sleepy, or just plain slow.

Be wary of the driver who seems to be leaning into their brakes or who is noticeably moving slower than the flow of traffic dictates.

Rental Box Trucks, Buses, RVs

Many drivers argue that if one is required to have a special endorsement to hold a trucker job and drive a semi, then so should RV drivers, or those who rent moving trucks. An RV is a large vehicle that requires practice to master, meaning must be mindful of these drivers. If they only drive this large vehicle once a year, or maybe it’s the first time they’ve ever been behind the wheel. This can be especially true for travel-heavy states like Florida, wherein many RVs are making their final destination. When sharing the road, truckers should follow basic safety principles: don’t tailgate and make sure you are aware of all your surroundings (moving those eyes from the left mirror to the windshield to the right mirror).

Bus drivers are trained and hold a special endorsement to drive that vehicle. But have you ever driven in downtown Chicago? The bus drivers are extremely aggressive. You have to be prepared to brake at a moment’s notice, be prepared for one to move into your lane without waiting for you to back off, and to turn without using blinkers. It can be extremely disconcerting, unless you are prepared!

Stationary Vehicles

In and of itself, a parked vehicle does not present danger. Where the danger comes in is when the driver, or any other individual, exits or enters the vehicle without looking. Try and give a parked vehicle a wider berth. The last thing that you want is to have someone open their car door as you drive by and you take off their door and maybe their arm too.

Disabled vehicles present a different hazard. If someone is changing a tire with their back to the traffic, it is easy for someone to drive to close and clip that person with a bumper, or a side mirror, or present a situation where someone is not paying as close attention as they ought to be. In general, drivers should not be responsible for doing things for others that they should be doing themselves – like putting a spare on a car. However, in your capacity as a professional driver, you have to be prepared to hold the hand (as it were) of a motorist and help them to be safe.

Emergency Vehicles

Whether it is a fire truck, police car or ambulance, all emergency vehicles must be given free reign of the road. You are expected to pull off and wait for the emergency vehicle to pass (if they are traveling the same direction as you, or anytime it is a city street). If a police officer has a vehicle pulled over on the right shoulder, move into the left lane until you are past. Give wide berth out of respect. Driving an emergency vehicle can be dangerous and they do not need to worry about being obstructed by a semi on top of all their other concerns.

Other Hazards

Pedestrians (joggers, walkers, cyclists) are everywhere within cities. They do have rules they are supposed to follow, but you must be prepared for them to do the unexpected at all times . A cyclist swerving to miss a rock on the bike lane could end up in your lane. Or a pedestrian glued to their cell phone - I know, it’s a recurring theme in this article, and I don’t mean to be on a soap box, it’s just present day reality- a person might step off the curb without looking to make sure they have the light to cross.

Within cities there may be children on the sidewalks that aren’t paying attention who walk into the road without looking. Or if you are in a more residential area, near a school, or an apartment complex, there may be children and pets who run out into the road while playing. The takeaway from this hazard - just be aware.

Bottom Line

If it can happen, it will happen, just give it time. Keep your eyes open and on the mirrors and road, be aware of your surroundings, and drive with everyone’s safety in mind. You will encounter far fewer accidents if you do!


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