The dangers of overtaking heavy-duty trucks

The dangers of overtaking heavy-duty trucks

Car and bakkie drivers continually try their luck and overtake large trucks in unsafe conditions.

The lack of understanding by car and bakkie drivers, of the length, mass and power of the big trucks that use our national road network, all too often results in horrific and fatal accidents.

Many vehicle drivers do not know that most of the trucks travelling on the long-distance routes around South Africa are interlink combinations; consisting of a 22-m long truck-tractor pulling two trailers.

This is approximately four to five times the length of their light motor vehicle and it will, therefore, take time to pass the truck safely. The result is that they attempt to overtake without a sufficient clearance gap.

Second, they are not aware that these vehicles (when fully loaded) have a total mass of 56 000 kg, whereas the average light motor vehicle has a mass of approximately 1 500 kg. Colliding with a truck of this size can be fatal for the light-vehicle driver and passengers.

Third, most of these modern trucks and buses are fitted with high-powered diesel engines and are often able to retain their cruising speed on an uphill. Not realising this, motorists often endeavour to race past the truck at the approach of the hill and then find themselves in trouble.

Ignorance of the rules of the road regarding driving in the yellow lane is another problem. Many light motor-vehicle drivers expect truck drivers to move into the yellow lane when they want to overtake. When the truck driver fails to do this, they get annoyed and recklessly try to overtake the truck in unsafe conditions.                                            

The regulation pertaining to yellow-line driving does not state that truck drivers are compelled to move over, and many truck operators do not allow their drivers to do so. This is due to previous horrific accidents that have been caused as a result of driving in the yellow lane.

To counteract the bad decisions that light-vehicle drivers make, truck drivers need to adopt an advanced driving style to prevent collisions.

One of the main advanced driving skills taught to drivers is to continually (every 12 seconds) search for anything that represents a possible hazard, such as a light-vehicle driver proceeding to overtake when it is not safe.

Once a road hazard is identified, a driver needs to predict what may happen. The time span between identifying a hazard and executing the avoidance action may be very short, so reducing vehicle speed should be the first action to be taken once a road hazard is identified.

Drivers then need to make a decision on what remedial action to take to prevent a collision, and immediately execute it. Quick execution of the decision is vital, as things normally happen very fast in these situations.

A driver should also always have a possible escape path in mind, which could be the adjacent lane on a highway, or the verge of the road.


One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for over 50 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel (now UD Trucks), 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.

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