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Why Are 18-Wheeler Truckers Overly Competing Each Other And Driving Faster

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Why do truck drivers going 1/2 mph faster than another truck on a 2 lane highway insist on passing the slower truck without speeding up, causing the rest of us to pile up behind them because the trucks are going 10 mph slower than the rest of us?

As a trucker going on 25 yrs, I want to add something to this topic. It is directed toward my fellow truckers.

When I have another truck struggling to pass me, I immediately reduce speed by 5mph to let him get around me in a timely manner. Takes maybe 10 seconds. Slowing from 65 to 60 for ten seconds is going to make absolutely zero difference. To anything. It will cost me maybe 100 ft. In distance. Think about it. The truck gets around me and moves back over. He is right in front of me. Had I not slowed, that is where I would be; 100 ft ahead of where I now am.

Forcing the slightly faster truck to back up traffic for 3 miles is not hurting that driver any. What it IS doing is bunching up traffic and frustrating/angering other motorists. To put another way, it is disrupting the flow of traffic, which creates more dangerous motoring. For everybody, the trucker included.

It also gives truckers a bad name. It causes people (like the person who asked this question) to not like us…can’t really blame them.

When the shoe is on the other foot, rarely am I afforded the same courtesy. None of us wants to be behind a slower vehicle, truck or otherwise, for any length of time. The other answers give some viable reasons to make the pass.

And this holds true for you owner operators as well. You drive slower to save fuel (money). Very smart. Please, if I am struggling to pass you, do not speed up, and then slow back down when I fall in behind you. If you do not want to go faster, get out of my way.

Please, lets all of us do what we can to keep our highways as safe as possible. I mean really, we should want safer highways MORE than the motoring public. They are our workplace

Based on comments this answer is generating, it is apparent there are many erroneous assumptions and beliefs among non truck drivers. Some of you may be surprised about what all we put up with out there. And a lot of it is a direct result of the new technology being added to semi tractors. And some of this technology is now finding its way onto automobiles, so you might want to know what you are in store for if you are thinking about purchasing a new car.

In addition to having all their trucks governed at 65 mph, the company I drive for has installed the PACCAR system on all their trucks. One feature of this system is “interactive cruise control”, and they have it set at 3.7 seconds. What this means is that if I am going faster than the vehicle in front of me, once I close to within 3.7 seconds my truck will slow to match their speed, and then maintain a 3.7 second following distance. They speed up, I speed up (to a maximum of 65 mph). They slow down, I slow down…always maintaing that 3.7 second gap.

The consequence of that feature is maddening:

I’m motoring down the highway, cruise control set at 65mph. Now an SUV moves in front of me, leaving a 1 second following distance between us. Then it slows to 65 because their exit is up ahead. So my cruise control slows me to 63 so as to reestablish a 3.7 sec cushion. But the truck that has been behind me for the last 30 miles, also governed at 65, doesn’t want to slow down, and doesn’t know why I did. So he moves over to pass. He gets around me and comes back over at a 1 sec distance, just as the SUV makes his exit. My rig holds at 63 because I still do not have a 3.7 second cushion. Now another 65 trk catches me. And on and on it goes.

Another scenario, same as before, only this time when the SUV comes in front of me, he brakes hard because he almost missed his exit. He left enough room between us. I am in no danger of rear-ending him, because he is only a second from exiting and being out of my way. But my truck doesn’t know that. All it reads is an object, very close in front of me, slowing rapidly. It doesn’t know that object is exiting. So now the “collision mitigation system” kicks in, and my truck ACTIVATES A HARD BRAKE! I am thrown against my shoulder harness, bruising my 62 yr old collarbone. Had there been somebody tailgating me, there is a good chance they would have rear-ended me. Especially if it had happened at the exact moment when their attention was diverted from my trailer because they were fiddling with the radio or lighting a cig or digging in a purse for a stick of gum or wiping a smudge from their sunglasses or…Let me warn you, tailgating a truck is more dangerous now than ever.

The truck is also equipped with a low clearance feature. If it identifies a low clearance, it will throw on a hard brake. Arbitrarily. The problem is, and other truckers I have talked to have had it happen to them too, is that it occasionally misidentifies a low clearance. The standard clearance for a semi rig is 13′6″. Every bridge on the Interstate highway system in America is more than 13′6″. I have had my truck throw on a hard brake for bridges as high as 16 feet! It happens at least once a week. Usually for only a second, but sometimes for several seconds; even long enough to activate the ABS system. Once again, best not be tailgating one of us when that happens. Also, if it were to happen on a slick road, especially if it is on a curve, there is a good chance it would put me into a jackknife. And this system is always active, independent of the cruise control. It will throw on a hard brake if, going around a curve to the left, there is a slowpoke just ahead of me in the lane to my right. Likewise on a curve to the right with a slowpoke in the lane to my left. Once again, if that ever happens on a wet road, hello jackknife. In case you were wondering, I have had the thing recalibrated twice and it still does it. And get this: last month, the company I work for had 6 drivers with low clearance accidents on non-interstate roads. The thing doesn’t activate in time to stop the truck before hitting a bridge anyway.

Driving 500–600 miles a day, my right ankle and right knee begin to ache. So I use my cruise control a lot. The truck has a 12 speed automatic transmission. Both with and without the cruise set, when going down a hill and gravity pushes me past 65mph, it shifts into neutral. When I hit 70, it goes back in gear to hold it there, and will downshift to 11th gear if needed in order to keep it under 71. Now here is something totally googy. I get my speed up to 65 and engage the cruise. When I take my foot off the accelerator to let the cruise take over, it drops to 63. Then, ever so slowly, it creeps up to 65. Takes 2.6 miles to get up to 65. Before long I come to a hill. I crest the hill and start going down the other side. Get a gravity push. Go into neutral. Get to the bottom and level off. But the cruise doesn’t kick in again until 63, and now I have to go another 2.6 miles to get back up to 65! It doesn’t have to be a big hill. Any little hill will cause that to happen. Or even just a bridge over another highway. Now, unless I’m going out west, there are very few highways where you go very far before coming to a bridge or a hill. And of course anytime I disengage the cruise, like to let another truck pass, then the 2.6 mile thing all over again.

So if another 65 mile truck is behind me, and I keep slowing to 63 because we went down a little hill or over a bridge, or even under a bridge where the low clearance malfunctions and puts on the brake, what do you think the driver behind me is gonna do? He’s gonna pass. And of course when he moves back over in front of me, the cruise will wait for the 3.7 second gap before taking 2.6 miles to get me up to 65. Aargh! For a 500 mile day, In a 65 mph truck, using the cruise control, I would actually be going 65 for maybe 10 miles. I had to put up with that for almost 5 months before I was able to get them to hook it up to the computer and change it so that it would hold at 65 when first engaged. Think about it. About how many times that resulted in another slow truck holding up traffic while passing me.

But here is the reality of it. For 5 months, before it was changed, I would rarely use my cruise control. It simply cost me too much time. But without it, pushing the accelerator all the way down and holding it there mile after mile after mile, my ankle would start to ache. So I would cross my left foot over and use it to drive with, resting my right foot on top of it. How safe is that? Also, with tension on it for so long, my right knee would start to ache, so to ease the pain I would help the knee by putting my right hand on it and pushing down. Then I would be driving with only my left hand on the wheel. How safe is that?

Another, similar to the first, but slightly different: So I’m motoring down the highway, pedal to the metal, at 65mph. Another truck has been behind me, maintaining a constant following distance after merging onto the highway 20 miles back. I figure his truck is also set at 65mph, which is the most common setting among trucking companies these days. Ahead of me is another truck, seems to be going 64, or maybe 64 and a half, as I am slowly creeping closer. His truck is probably set at 65 as well, but his speedometer is not quite accurate (a large percentage of speedometers are slightly off, among all types of vehicles).

So when I catch up, knowing that to attempt a pass would likely back up traffic, angering motorists, because it is unlikely the driver of the slower truck in front of me would slow down for a bit in order for me to complete my pass in a timely fashion, I decide to engage my interactive cruise and stay behind him, hoping that he will exit before long. But now the truck that has been behind me for 20 miles catches up to me. Well guess what. He doesn’t want to slow down. So he moves to the left lane to pass me. And of course it’s going to take him as long to pass me as it would for me to pass the one in front. And after passing me, he will then take that much time again passing the one in front.

So I’m gonna back off and let him get on around me. But the one in front doesn’t follow my example. Now as the traffic backs up beside me, I see there was another truck behind the one that was behind me. And since I slowed to 60 to let that one get on around, that 4th truck now catches up to me. Not aware that I was going 65, but instead thinking I am going 60, he now moves left to pass. So I slow some more, not only to let him get around me, but also to give him room to move back over in front of me after getting around so he can let the traffic clear before passing the front guy. And of course the first one to pass me is still out there creeping by mr. 64mph. And now here comes another 65 mph truck, catching me because I am trying to do my part to keep traffic flowing smoothly. So now he goes to pass, and I let him. Finally the first two passers get around the 64 mph truck, and the 3rd one to pass me stays put. 10 miles later, 64 mph takes an exit. But the last 65 mph that passed me doesn’t speed up. Well fuck me runnin. Seems his truck doesn’t go but 64 either, and now here I am still stuck behind a 64 mph truck. No good deed goes unpunished.

To sum up, this “collision mitigation system”, as they call it, is dangerous. And the interactive cruise control is so exasperating that it is turning me into a less courteous driver, with regards to helping maintain a smooth traffic flow.

This technology is making our highways more dangerous by contributing to, by increasing, congestion. And by increasing the likelihood of jackknives and rear-end collisions by malfunctioning. Just because the technology exists does not mean it is wise to implement it.

Good grief, I am out of time and never got around to addressing the misconceptions. Be safe and happy motoring! 🙂