U. S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
HS 808 705
List of Tables
List of Figures
Truck Related Issues
Truck related issues came up in all of the motorist focus groups but the specific issues listed under this topic were covered systematically among motorists only in Group 4. All of the commercial driver groups discussed the longer list of issues under this topic.
Motorists' Perceptions of Danger
The subject of trucks as a danger on the Beltway came up early in every group. Group 1 participants engaged in a long digression about them while discussing potential solutions to aggressive driving. The woman with the highest aggression score picked up on the group's interest in trucks and remarked that what made them dangerous was that they have huge blind spots. One of the men in the group related a story about a truck driver who forced the truck into his lane. He had been driving in the same spot, about in the middle of the trailer, for a long time. He felt that the trucker must have known he was there and this was just aggressive driving on the part of the trucker. Another participant observed that tailgating is especially dangerous when the vehicle doing it is a truck because trucks are extremely difficult to slow down and require greater following distances than cars.
The moderator asked Group 1 if truck drivers were more aggressive than drivers of passenger vehicles. Those who gave any indication of how they felt were shaking their heads to indicate "no." The man that had pointed out the danger of truckers tailgating cars sprang to the truck drivers' defense. He said truck drivers actions that might seem aggressive to people who do not know about trucks were things truckers need to do to get where they need to go. For example, he said, "How many times has a trucker been seen signaling that he needs to change lanes for a mile and no one will fall back to give him a gap to get in? It gets to a point that he just needs to force his way in."
When the moderator introduced the topic of trucks on the Beltway to Group 4, the first person to respond said, "Don't get me started." She continued that trucks frighten her and she reads about horrible crashes caused by trucks all the time. Four of the five women in the group said they did not like being near trucks on the highway, one saying that she always fears that they have not seen her in their mirrors.
Motorists in several groups also mentioned that debris falling or blowing from trucks was a hazard. Several mentioned that they needed to replace windshields as a result of pebbles hitting them when they were following a truck. Others complained that trucks blocked their vision of the road ahead. A woman in Group 3 said that trucks slow down traffic and they do not stay in the right hand lane while going slow. One of the men added that trucks stay out of the left lane but unless drivers are comfortable going over 70 in that lane, they are pretty much stuck behind the trucks. Another man in Group 3 added that sometimes truckers are aggressive and related an experience of a trucker who got angry at him when he passed. The trucker retaliated by trying to run him off the road. Poor brakes were also mentioned.
A member of Group 3 remarked that he felt a lot of truck drivers were not really qualified to drive that type of vehicle. He clarified his remark by saying that he was referring mostly to straight trucks that do not require a Commercial Drivers License.
Motorists' Precautions Around Trucks
One of the men in Group 4 said that he is very aware that truck drivers cannot always see a car in their mirrors. He tries to avoid being alongside trucks for long periods of time and will either speed up or drop back if he thinks there is a danger that the truck does not know he is there. The most aggressive of the women drivers in the group said she makes a conscious effort to avoid being in the blind spots. Her understanding of where they are was correct as she demonstrated by drawing a diagram on an easel pad.
The woman who originally complained about trucks in Group 4 confessed that she sometimes speeded up to get around trucks and get away from them. When questioned about whether she returned to her normal speed when she got around a truck, she claimed that she maintained her increased speed for quite a distance because she did not want to be right in front of them either. She evidently is not the kind of driver truckers complain about -- those who speed up to get around and then get in their way.
The moderator told Group 1 that truckers complain that cars that have been following actually speed up to close the gap when trucks signal a lane change. When the group was asked if speeding up so a truck cannot change lanes is a form of aggressive driving, most group members indicated it was. However, one woman tried to justify the behavior by saying that she did not like to be behind trucks because she could not see around them.
Motorists' Awareness of Truck Safety Campaigns
In Group 4, the only group asked, none of the members of the group was aware of the "NoZone" public information campaign to educate people about truck blind spots. However, several of the group members were vaguely aware of the "Share the Road" slogan.
Motorists' Views on Truck Restrictions
A few members of Group 4 said they felt trucks should be restricted to the two right lanes on the Beltway. Another volunteered that trucks should be kept off the Beltway altogether during rush hours. However, a couple of people said they felt this is too extreme, saying it probably would have a lot of economic impact. One of the women in the group said that the hazard of trucks on the Beltway might not be as great as people think. She said that she personally has seen a lot of crashes on the Beltway but never one involving a truck except on TV. One of the Group 4 members said it would be a good idea to restrict trucks to speeds under 65. He was actually a bit shocked to learn that the national speed limit for trucks is 55. When he recovered, he said that it should be enforced.
Truckers' Awareness of the "NoZone" and "Share the Road" Campaigns
The Roadway Express drivers knew all about "NoZone" because one of the focus group participants and his truck were filmed for the video that appears on TV. (It was transformed into a computer animation as it appears on TV). The driver said he has only seen it once, at about midnight, on an obscure TV station. The Roadway drivers think the message is good, but unfortunately, the public does not have an opportunity to see it.
None of the dump truck drivers were familiar with "NoZone," although some were vaguely aware of the "Share the Road" campaign. They were more familiar with the signs the truckers put on their rigs that say "If you cannot see me in my mirrors, I cannot see you."
One of the North American participants said that he had seen "NoZone" on a sign somewhere, but the rest of the drivers did not know what the word meant and had never seen it anywhere. When the moderator explained what "NoZone" was about, even the driver who thought he had seen it on a sign backed off what he said. Several had heard about the "Share the Road" Campaign. Perhaps the reason they knew about it was because it had been discussed briefly in the 1994 focus group session.
Commercial Drivers' Comments on Truck Restrictions
The commercial drivers in all groups were aware of the left lane restriction and HAZMAT restrictions on the Beltway. They do not like the left lane restriction, especially when there are slow vehicles, three abreast, in front of them. One driver said he thinks motorists do that on purpose because no one wants to be behind a truck. Some said they want to jump into the left lane occasionally but most think it is not worth the risk of getting caught.
One of the Roadway drivers said he did not understand the logic of lane restrictions for HAZMATS. He thinks they are at least as likely to crash in the two right lanes as in the left. One of the drivers observed that the right lane is the most dangerous lane a truck can run in. His point was that there is a lot of merging going on in that lane with cars exiting and entering the Beltway.
The general reaction of truck drivers to motorists suggestions that trucks be banned from the Beltway or banned altogether was that it simply cannot be done. The Roadway driver who spends most of his workday on the Beltway thinks it would be great if he could work at night when there is no traffic. The problem with that is that customers are closed at night. One driver claims that the economy of the DC area would simply come to a standstill. The economic impact of adding hours to delivery times is just beyond the understanding of most motorists. They have no idea about what it costs to keep a truck running every hour it is on the road or what percent of the price they pay for things they need is the cost of transporting the product.
The dump truck drivers complained that they are misunderstood by the general public. People have no idea what truck drivers can and cannot see. They also have no appreciation for the length of time it takes to get a truck up to speed or slow it down. They believe that dump trucks get a bad rap about cargo flying off the trucks. These drivers said they always use their tarps but a certain quantity of flying stones is unavoidable. Some stones kick up from the road but the motorist thinks they come from the truck. Some come off the tailgate when hauling asphalt -- state rules prohibit the use of fuel oil as a solvent to remove stuck material because it degrades the next load of material.
Truck Drivers Views on Vehicle Inspection
The Skippy's Trucking drivers said that the current level of inspections their equipment gets is appropriate. Every truck is inspected by the driver daily and the state requires an annual inspection of every vehicle. These drivers said that the threat of random state inspections at the terminal is real enough to the company that it does a good job of self inspection and keeps the trucks well maintained. Their mechanics go over each truck each weekend to make sure everything is up to code. They said their company gets fewer random inspections than companies with a bad safety record and that is a powerful incentive to run a clean operation. From a driver's point of view, they like frequent inspections because their job is easier and safer if they are driving well maintained equipment. Between inspections at weigh stations or highway pull-offs and on-premises inspections, they prefer the on-premises inspections. One reason is that it does not disrupt their work. These drivers are paid by the ton, and stopping for inspections takes money out of the driver's pocket as well as their employer's. Another is that there is no way to evade inspections done at the terminal but is relatively easy to avoid a weigh station. They say they do it all the time. Word gets out very quickly among truckers and it "does not take a genius to figure out a way to find another route."
The North American trucks are inspected every six months, per company policy. This is in addition to the annual state inspection. Just about all of the drivers in the group had been pulled off for inspections at weigh stations. Although they get a sticker that is supposed to save them from being pulled off again for a while, Maryland and Virginia do not honor each other's stickers. Drivers say they sometimes get pulled off by one state shortly after they have been inspected by the other state. Like the dump truck drivers, they hate to get pulled off the road. When asked how they felt about the frequency of inspections, one of the owner operators in the group said it is too frequent and it is really a pain getting stopped in each state when he is on a road trip. The terminal manager said that on-the-road inspections have not been a big problem for the company since they rarely have a violation that puts them out of service.
Truck Driver Opinions on Roll Over Prevention Devices
The Skippy's drivers were aware of the truck rollover warning devices that have been installed on some Beltway ramps over the past several years. They think there are still some ramps that do not have them where they would be of benefit. Since they were local drivers, they generally knew which ramps were a problem. They do not think the devices help them personally but could save the lives of some interstate truckers who might be surprised by the tight radius of some ramps in the dead of night. One driver said it is funny to watch the reactions of four wheelers when a truck behind them trips the weight actuated warnings. They get on the brakes in a hurry because they probably have been on the ramps many times without seeing the signs light up. Only one North American driver had noticed any of the truck rollover warning devices that have been installed on some of the ramps. He said there is one at Van Dorn.