Understanding the Tractor Trailer

 The simple truth of the matter is that everyone must navigate the roads with tractor-trailers. Virtually everyone is familiar with the semi out on the road, but it is genuinely surprising how few people truly have a good understanding of those big rigs. But not only is this level of ignorance surprising, it is also potentially dangerous, made evident by how many accidents involving semis occur. Through gaining some simple information and understanding about semis, from their purpose and function to the mechanical aspects unique to them, the danger potential can be decreased.

·         Understanding the driver of the truck. The vast majority of the professional drivers out on the road had to go through a Driver's School or CDL Instructional Course of some sort before becoming qualified to earn their Commercial Driver's License (CDL). There are still numerous professional drivers out there who began their driving careers before law required formal schooling and they started as an apprentice, but since law has required school since 1992, the majority of drivers have been formally trained. This means these drivers have learned the basics of the operation of a Combination Vehicle (the tractor and trailer connected), including how to drive it, back it as and when required, and all the fundamentals of its operation. They have also learned proper driving techniques necessary to negotiate the roadways while driving an 18-wheeler, and with the four-wheelers on the road, such as your car.

·         Understanding the nature of the truck. A semi is usually comprised of two major components, being the tractor and the trailer. There are exceptions to this, as some semis you see may involve a truck pulling two smaller trailers, but mostly there are the two main pieces. A semi is often called this because the trailer pulled is not a full trailer, but it is considered a semi trailer because it does not have front wheels. The tractor is comprised of two steering wheels and then two drive axles with four wheels on each, two at each end. So, the tractor has ten and then the remaining eight are on the trailer, with another two axles and eight wheels. The two components are coupled with a fifth wheel and a kingpin. The fifth wheel is the large metal plate on the back of the tractor, and it grips the kingpin in a strong jaw within the fifth wheel. When the trailer is not connected to a tractor, its front end sits on two legs, or the landing gear.

·         The details about the semi you should know about semi brakes. While the vast majority of cars employ braking systems designed for use with a hydraulic fluid, semis use air brakes. This is a positive thing because it requires air pressure to detract the brakes from the rotors. In most cars, depressing the brake employs a pressure that forces the brake onto the rotor. But if brake fluid is lost, braking power is lost. In a semi, a loss of air pressure locks the brakes rather than preventing the power to brake. But all motorists must understand that simply because a bigger truck must have bigger brakes, it doesn?'t brake as well as a typical car or other four-wheeled vehicle. It isn?'t the brakes; it is simply the mass of the vehicle. In fact, the heavier the load, the more space is required to stop. Further, when a tractor is bobtailing (a term used when a tractor is operated without a trailer), then its stopping power is limited because it is designed to have that trailer. When it does not, its stopping power is diminished, particularly in wet or icy roads. Its tires can break traction and slide easily because its brakes are designed to cope with a heavy trailer. The professional driver knows these things, but all motorists should be aware that semis have a limited braking ability, which is why a safe distance from a semi is always a good idea.

·         The semi driver's visibility of what is around is limited. This is important information to remember because knowing what the semi driver can and cannot see can make a difference between an accident and no incident at all. The semi obviously does not have a rearview mirror on the windshield (there's no rear window) so the driver can only rely on the large mirrors on either side of the truck. Most trucks these days have mirrors near the end of the hood as well as the big mirrors on the doors, but this is not always the case. The driver's view is particularly limited on the right side of the vehicle since the driver's seat and steering wheel are on the left, meaning that driver has nothing else to determine what's over there. These limitations are why it is a good idea to refrain from driving alongside a semi; it is simply too easy to end up in a blind spot and either be hit or pushed should the vehicle turn or change lanes.

·         The semi driver is far more informed on road safety and traffic rules than the average motorist. Professional drivers are continually trained on driving safety and strategy, and they must live to a higher standard because the rules of the road for the commercial vehicle differ significantly than for private vehicles and motorists. They must learn the dynamics of weather conditions, appropriate traveling distances between vehicles (based on their size, speed, and road conditions) and so many other pertinent skills in order to navigate the roads daily.

But it would significantly benefit the private motorist to seek the education and information privy to the professional driver, mainly because the safety information is so valuable. Utilizing the internet and local governmental information to learn greater driving skills and safety tips could only prove beneficial.

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