18 wheelers share the highway with us 24/7. The most dangerous time to share the road with them is nighttime. There is a reason why truckers call the time from midnight to 6:00am the DANGER ZONE. It is because there are six (6) times more accidents and fatalities. Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations section 383.113 (Required skills) all commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders must demonstrate safe driving skills. Night driving is a skill. Commercial truck drivers are expected to be aware of different factors in nighttime driving such as the limitations of vision, the hazards of glare, the consequences of during while fatigued, the effect of poor or no illumination on the ability to see ahead, and the use of high and low beams.
According to the CDL driver training manual:
“You are at greater risk when you drive at night. Drivers can’t see hazards as quickly as in daylight, so they have less time to respond. Drivers caught by surprise are less able to avoid a crash. The problems of night driving involve the driver, the roadway, and the vehicle.” (CDL Driver Training Manuel)
Fatigue is a major contributing cause of tractor trailer crashes. Being tired as well as not being as alert in the daytime are dangerous recipes for disaster for the motoring public encountering 18 wheelers on the road at night, especially after midnight. Fatigue can affect a commercial truck driver’s ability not just to see well but to react as quickly. So, the chance of a tractor trailer crash is much greater.
DRIVER PAY LEADS TO FATIGUE
Truckers are taught to Get rest if they have been driving too long. But the reality is many drivers of tractor trailer rigs can’t afford to pull over. Some of the reasons commercial truck drivers drive while fatigued are that they are pushed by their dispatcher to meet a deadline. Of course, the dispatcher won’t be there to explain to a state trooper why that same driver got in a crash because he was overworked. Another cause of driving at night while fatigued is the way professional truck drivers are paid. Most truckers are paid by the mile. That means for every mile they travel they got paid and so the longer a truck driver drives, and the further he or she goes the more money they make. And it is hard for a truck driver to shut it down when they have bills to pay.
Glare from high beams can temporarily blind a truck driver for two seconds and it may take several seconds to recover. In just 2 seconds a tractor trailer can travel half the distance of a football field. That is a dangerous time for a truck to travel with a driver blinded by glare. The solution is for the truck driver to focus on the right side of the road and watch the sidelines as a car approaches with their brights on.
ROADWAY FACTORS AND HEADLIGHTS
Roadway factors play a significant role in nighttime tractor trailer crashes. On a dark highway the tractor trailer driver must depend only on his or her headlights. But headlight beams, even with new halogen lights, do not illuminate far enough or wide enough. At highway speed a trucker relying on his high beams will oftentimes not have enough time to brake to avoid a crash. Low beams allow a tractor trailer driver to see only 250 feet ahead. Depending on what type, high beams allow a tractor trailer driver to see between 350 and 500 feet. But dirty headlights can cut the distance of illumination by as much as 50%! Another problem can be a dirty windshield that creates a glare.
TRUCK DRIVERS TAUGHT TO PREPARE FOR NIGHT
Responsible truck drivers are taught to properly prepare for night driving. The most important preparation for night driving is rest and sleep. Alertness should be optimum.
Also, all headlights should not only be checked to see if they come on, they should be adjusted to shine directly ahead. Windshields, mirrors, fishers, and reflective tape must be all be examined to confirm there is no dirt or residue. And any truck drivers that wear eye glasses must make sure they too are cleaned so there is no glare or vision impairment. Professional truck drivers are also taught that the interior of their cab must not be too bright or that makes it harder to see outside.
IMPAIRED PERCEPTION REACTION TIME
Even with everything in order on the tractor trailer (headlights windshield, glasses, mirrors, flashers and reflectors, and interior lighting dimmed) Night driving can impair the ability to see and identify hazards. This is referred to as perception time. The more difficult something is to see like a bicyclist or a pedestrian or even a stranded car with flashers on, the closer the tractor trailer is moving towards disaster. And once the hazard is finally perceived as the tractor trailer moves closer toward the hazard, the trucker must then react by taking an evasive maneuver such as braking or steering away from the hazard. Tractor trailers already require longer stopping distances which take more time than a passenger car. But 18 wheelers use air brakes to stop. That means that it will take an extra half a second to engage the brakes after the brakes have been applied. This is called “brake lag.”
Besides pulling over to get rest, the other solution to fatigue and problems of perception driving at night is for the tractor trailer to SLOW DOWN! Professional truck drivers are taught:
“Drive slower when lighting is poor or confusing. Drive slowly enough to be sure you can stop in the distance you can see ahead.”