Johannesburg - Two major crashes involving heavy trucks on Van Reenen’s Pass during the recent holiday season have highlighted the pressures facing the drivers of the monster 18-wheelers that always seem to be in our way at the worst possible times and places when we’re travelling the long road.

These ‘mobile roadblocks’ can carry up to 25 tons of payload, either in bulk or in containers, which means they need more time to get going, to slow down and to stop.

Their huge diesel engines also have a very narrow operating range, so they need a compound ‘splitter’ transmission with up to 24 (manual!) forward gears - so when they’re accelerating or climbing a long hill, the driver is constantly changing gears, which can be very disconcerting for car drivers caught behind them.

Here are 10 tips from Masterdrive to help you share the road safely with long-haul trucks.

Leave plenty of room between your car and the truck

This will help you stay out of their blind spots - which are bigger than yours - especially in front of or close to their bumper, close behind the truck and in certain spots alongside, notably next to the four driving wheels.

Rule of thumb: if you can see the driver’s face in his side mirror, he can see you.

Don’t pull in directly front of a truck or into a small gap between two trucks.

Truckers often form convoys three or four trucks long, with very small gaps between them. This is technically illegal but delivers significant fuel savings due to improved aerodynamics (racing drivers call it ‘slipstreaming’).

If you jump into the gap, however, the truck behind you may be unable to stop quickly enough in an emergency (a medium sized truck can take 40 percent longer than a car to stop from the same speed) so you could find yourself sandwiched between two very hard places.

A large proportion of the traffic passing through Mariannhill Toll Plaza is comprised of heavy trucks. File photo: Sibonelo Ngcobo / INLSA

Check the length of the truck before you commit to overtaking.

Don’t just check that the oncoming lane is clear; look down the right-hand side of the truck to get an idea of its length, and in any case give yourself more than enough time in case the truck is longer than expected.

Be extra careful with trucks carrying abnormal loads; they’re often longer than the permitted maximum of 22 metres - that’s why they’re called ‘abnormal’.

Don’t go up the inside of a truck at an intersection.

Trucks have a very big turning circle; if an 18.5-metre truck-trailer is in the left side of a double turning lane, the driver will swing wide before turning right - but the trailer wheels will still cross both lanes, including the one you’re in, leaving you with nowhere to go but under the wheels of the trailer.

Give truckers extra space when it’s raining

Not only will they take even longer than usual to stop, but 18 huge truck tyres throw up an incredible amount of spray, more than the average car’s wipers can cope with, leaving you blinded at the worst possible time.

If there’s a truck behind you, signal early and avoid making sudden turns.

Trucks take longer than cars to stop even in ideal conditions, and their length means they take longer to make emergency lane changes. The last thing you need is to be rear-ended by 40 tons of road train.

Never stop in the emergency lanes for trucks.

These lanes are there for trucks whose brakes have failed going downhill and you endanger everybody by doing this.

Don’t pressurise a trucker to drive in the yellow lane so you can pass.

Truck drivers sit high above the road and they can see further than you can; they won’t move over if it’s dangerous or illegal to do so.

Don’t pass a truck on an incline then cut in front.

Hilly roads are especially challenging for truckers. You can’t overtake as the truck in front of you grinds up a blind rise, so the temptation is there to blast past as soon as you can see over the crest.

If you do, however, don’t cut back in, right in front of the truck. With 25 tons of payload pushing him down the hill, he won’t be able to slow down as quickly as you can.

Most South African roads  - even our national roads - were not designed for vehicles 22 metres long. Following these tips will reduce some of the pressure that truck drivers face and help everybody arrive alive after a road trip.

IOL Motoring