Ask a Trucker: Professional drivers answer your questions about driving safely

Rudy Quiroz, a supervising instructor at Dootson School of Trucking, drives through El Monte on Wednesday morning, March 15, 2017.
Rudy Quiroz, a supervising instructor at Dootson School of Trucking, drives through El Monte on Wednesday morning, March 15, 2017.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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KPCC has been reporting on a recent increase in truck crashes in Southern California — and what's behind the trend. It turns out that it's frequently the actions of car drivers that cause trucks to crash.

So we gave our audience the opportunity to Ask A Trucker how to drive more safely around their vehicles. We collected questions via our SoCal. So Curious web platform and on social media, then we put to them to two professional truck drivers:

How fast should I go?

[When driving alongside a truck]

Bob Stanton: Either speed up or slow down, depending on the traffic situation. Don’t just sit there.

Karyn Marshall: The blindside on a big truck is huge on the right side. If you’re sitting over there on that right side we’d prefer that you just speed up and get out of that spot, because that is a very dangerous place to be. If we have to make a sudden move to that right, we’re not going to have a chance to see you.

Pet peeves

I'd ask what their biggest pet peeve is about car drivers.

— Brian Myer

Stanton: It’s the “suicide move.” So the car comes up behind me, doesn’t want to wait behind me for their exit, so they pass me and then dive for their exit right in front of me.

Marshall: Cellphones and not paying attention to what they’re doing. We see everything, and if you knew some of the things that we see people doing in cars... I’m not talking about just putting makeup on, I’m talking about people going down the road playing on their laptops and cellphones and tablets, or fixing their breakfast while they’re driving. Basically, they’re just not paying attention to what they’re doing, and it’s very scary.

Trucks: Always on the right?

Aren't trucks limited to the two right lanes on the freeway? Why do I sometimes see them farther left?

— Anonymous

Stanton: In general, smart truck drivers try to stay right if at all possible, but the far right-hand lane, you’re dealing with the challenges of cars or other vehicles getting on and off, and trucks don’t change speed quickly very well. Cars tend to want to get on in front of the truck, so traveling the far right lane can result in some spectacular application of brakes.

Marshall: The only time you should see a truck in that left lane is if we had to make an evasive maneuver to avoid an accident, or if a piece of debris is in the roadway. I will admit there are times drivers will scoot out there just to get around someone, because the odds of us getting caught is pretty slim, but most of us who are professional, we know we shouldn’t be out there and we’ll try to get back to the right as soon as possible. But many times four-wheelers will not let us get back into the lane that we need to be in. So if you see us in that left lane, give us a little bit of slack and let us get back into the lane we need to get into.


About when do you see me in your mirrors if I'm alongside? What signal should I give you that I'm letting you in front of me in traffic?

— Becca

Stanton: If you’re behind the truck and you can’t see the truck’s mirrors, the truck driver can’t see you. If you’re in the lane to my left and right and you can see my mirror, I can pretty much see you.

Marshall: Please do not flash your high beams — you’re effectively blinding us. The best signal you can do is reach down and turn your lights off for just a moment — we’ll see that.

Stanton: We call that blinking somebody over. That’s a code between professional drivers. And if the truck driver turns their four-way flashers on for a couple of blinks, that’s saying "thank you."