Driving a truck for a freight company can be a very rewarding career, but in order to make the most of your time as a trucker, you must learn how to drive safely. Driving a truck is very different from driving a car, and one of the main differences between the two vehicles is the distance each requires to reach a complete stop. Not respecting the differences in cars’ and trucks’ stopping distances and times can have terrible consequences for both you as the trucker and for other drivers.
It takes a semi truck much longer to come to a complete stop than an average-sized passenger vehicle, with some estimates putting the amount of time it takes for a semi truck to stop at over 40% higher than the amount of time it takes for a car to stop. This longer stopping time is partly due to trucks’ larger size, which in turn increases their inertia. As inertia increases, the amount of force needed to stop an object also increases, which means that the truck’s stopping time and distance will increase as well. And the size differences between trucks and cars are tremendous. The average car, for example, only weighs around 4,000 pounds. In contrast, depending on the truck and the weight of the load it’s carrying, semi trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. This enormous difference in size translates into an enormous difference in inertia and stopping distance.
Another factor that contributes to semi trucks’ increased stopping distance in comparison to that of cars is the design of each vehicles’ brakes. A truck’s brakes utilize a compressed air system as opposed to a car’s use of a hydraulic braking system, and the differences exist for several reasons. First, compressed air systems are considered more powerful and are therefore used for stopping larger vehicles, such as trucks and trains. Additionally, the air braking system makes it easier to link the cab’s controls to all other components of the truck, regardless of how many trailers it’s towing. Despite air brakes’ advantages, however, the differences in cars’ and trucks’ braking systems result in extreme differences in stopping times. A car’s hydraulic brakes activate almost instantly when the brake pedal is pushed by the driver, but trucks’ compressed air brakes are subject to lag. Approximately one second of travel time passes before the compressed air system activates the friction components that ultimately bring the truck to a stop. Furthermore, as the compressed air brakes are used more continuously, as on mountain roads, they expand and become less efficient, which results in the need for other safety precautions.
As the truck driver, it is your responsibility to provide the proper stopping distance and time required by your truck. You must sensitize yourself to the fact that not every car driver is aware of the many differences between driving cars and trucks, and may therefore cause you some problems. But because driving is your occupation, it is your responsibility to drive as safely as possible, regardless of the actions of other cars on the road. If you do not respect the differences between cars’ and trucks’ stopping distances and times, your time on the road as a trucker may prove extremely difficult.