How safe are the big rigs? -

Road rules for big rigs

According to recent research, more than 4,000 people die every year in collisions with trucks, and more than 80,000 more are seriously injured.

Thousands of trucks use our interstates every day.

George Rincon has been driving a "big rig" for 10 years. He knows how things can go wrong.

"A couple weeks ago, I had a real bad week; the transmission went out in this truck. Then, I went back to the shop and got another and the rear-end went out in it. All in the same week, so that was a bad week," said Rincon.

Trooper Brenda Tubbs is a commercial truck inspector, as well as a wife and mother of three. She knows her trucks.

Tubbs pulled a truck over for having a shaky axle. The driver was warned.

Next, we found lose chains on the bed of a trailer. That's a safety hazard so serious that the truck was taken out of service until it could be fixed.

"We knew about it. We just always carry them on the flatbed as long as they are in the middle. We don't worry about it, but yes, they should be in the box," said Don Weis, the driver.

Tubbs inspected four more trucks in our time with her.

One had cracked tires and a damaged air hose. The next, an improperly placed license plate. Both received warnings.

But the driver of a tow-truck failed to fill out his log book for seven days, which is a critical mistake.

A dump truck had broken headlights, brake lights, and a turn signal. It had to be taken straight to the shop.

"Just like your personal car, you can go down the road and get a flat tire. Things are going to go wrong. You're going to have lights that burn out; you're going to have tires that go bad," said Tubbs.

The most common problem Tubbs sees is bad brakes.

"Brake pads, drums. There are a lot that go with the brakes, not just brakes, that are going to put them out of service," said Tubbs. 

Of the six trucks we inspected, three were considered out of service. So, does this mean half the trucks on the road have problems?

Definitely not.

Tubbs only pulls over vehicles that appear to have issues, so that does skew the numbers. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 66 percent of accidents between a truck and a vehicle, the driver of the vehicle is at fault.

Rincon drives at least 500 miles a day and he's avoided quite a few crashes.

"They like to run up beside you and they don't want to share the lane. You've got to watch that all the time," he notes.

With 18-wheelers weighing 80,000 pounds and driving 55 miles-per-hour all day and every day, things go wrong all on their own.

The last thing Rincon wants is a poor judgment call from the driver of another vehicle, keeping him from getting home to his family.

There are several ways you can protect yourself, your family, and the drivers of these trucks.

A few basic tips include:

  • Make sure you can see the truck's headlights in your rearview mirror before entering the lane in front of it.
  • Make sure you see both of a truck's side mirrors when following it.
  • When passing ,do it quickly -- don't hang out in the driver's blind spot.
  • Before pulling out, remember that it takes big trucks longer to stop and slow than regular vehicles.
  • The best advice of all: Just give them plenty of space!

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