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SPECIAL REPORT: Big Rigs, Big Risks on the Central Coast

Big Rigs Big Risks on the Central Coast

SALINAS, Calif. - Trucking is the predominant mode of transportation in California, and whether we like it or not, big rigs play a big role in our lives.

According to Caltrans, nearly 80-percent of all communities depend on trucks to move their goods, including the Central Coast. We see a lot of trucks carrying produce here, or using U.S. Highway 101 as a main thoroughfare between Northern and Southern California.

But their very presence on the road can drive drivers up the wall. It can be frustrating when a driver is stuck behind a semi, but many often forget the person behind the wheel of the big rig is somebody just trying to do their job.

We spoke to some truckers as they made a stop in Salinas, to find out from them: What’s their biggest beef with so-called “four wheelers.”

"The one thing is that they stay right on my side, they won't pass me,” Fred Nash from Sacramento said. “They'll sit there and that puts me in a safety situation cause if I need to change lanes real fast, I can't do it."

So how can cars and commercial vehicles co-exist on the road? Truckers say drivers need to be patient because 18-wheelers take a long time to get up to speed and a long time to slow down.

A football field is 360-feet. According to the California Drivers Manual, a car going 55 miles per hour needs that much space to come to a complete stop. Semi-trucks need double that.

That’s why truckers need space, so leave a big buffer zone and don’t cut them off. Depending on what the trucks are carrying and how fast they’re going, these 18-wheelers are like 40-ton torpedoes.

"People don't understand, it only takes a second for me to tap you with this truck,” Nash said. “If I hit you with this truck, it's probably going to kill you."

"The trucks are heavy and the old adage goes that ‘Those with the most lug nuts wins,’ and it's so true,” said CHP Officer Michael Orta. “I mean, you're driving a vehicle that could weigh potentially between 3-5,000 pounds, given a passenger car up to an SUV, and they weigh 80,000 pounds. They can't stop."

Trucks also have a lot of blind spots, so if you can’t see their mirrors, the driver can’t see you. That’s why they consider the left side as the “passing side,” the right side is “suicide.”

"You should always pass to the left and overtake a vehicle traveling in the same direction to the left,” Orta said. “To the right, you may not see around them and they may not see you traveling on the right because they're expecting traffic to pass on the left."

As someone who has seen a number of deadly crashes involving big rigs, Orta said being impatient isn’t worth an accident. 

"The simple physics of the way they're traveling, these collisions can be very grotesque and involve multiple fatalities," Orta said.

 


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