Monday, April 20, 2009
Using the Mirrors on a Big Rig
One of the simplest tools available to a trucker is also one of the most valuable - the rear view mirrors. Truckers usually have spot mirrors as well - they provide a far larger - if distorted - field of view than the flat surfaced variety.
The most obvious use is simply to see what is behind you. We haul oversized loads, so we use a removable extended mirror. You can see just how little of the rear view we have even using the extended mirror. I'm sure we've all seen the signs on the rear of trailers that say "If You Can't See My Mirrors I Can't See You." It is a true statement no matter what the load or trailer in question may be. You are following too closely if you cannot see those mirrors, and you are also making the trucker uncomfortable. We know you are back there, but if there is a need for sudden maneuvering, we don't know exactly where you are and what you will do. You might just get run over if you change lanes suddenly when we have to dodge something and don't have time to look out for your welfare, too.
You'll notice how I have those mirrors set. The main flat mirror only shows the edge of the cab and then as far "out" as possible, and the spot mirror is set the same. When I make a left turn, it is highly useful to see just where the trailer is going, and if the spot mirror is getting a great view of the side of the cab, it won't "see" the rear of a 53' trailer when it's bent over during a sharp turn. This is true on the right side as well. I set my right side mirror low enough to see a car beside me, where I cannot see it from the flat mirror or just looking out the side window. The spot mirrors are good for reducing the blind spot on the right side.
Left turns with a trailer are always easier just because of the "extra room" compared to a right turn. You've always got at least a lane of room to play with. When a trucker makes a right turn, he/she has to be concerned with how far the trailer will cut into the arc of travel the tractor makes. If the trucker just turns right and hugs the curb all the way with the tractor, the trailer will "jump" the curb and anything within the radius will be run over - such as people, poles, or other various and sundry items. Swinging the tractor wide enables the following arc of the trailer to clear the curb, ditch, or culvert as the case may be. It may be an inconvenience to you in the car because the trucker had to take up two lanes to turn, but they can't help it - simple geometry requires the trucker to take that action. Trailers with their axles moved forward have an easier job, but trailers with their axles located at the rear (double drop flatbeds, grain trailers and such) aren't so maneuverable. Having the spot mirrors set correctly helps immeasurably in the task of turning in tight quarters.
The mirrors also help check the load. We use straps and chains to hold our cargo down, and checking the mirrors during a turn can show us a loose strap or chain. We can also see if the tires are flat or if a wheel seal is going out.
Backing up also requires the usage of mirrors as tools much the same as turning, only in reverse. It is harder to predict where the trailer will go in reverse compared to moving forward, but with practice a trucker learns. A lot of fleets have a see through sticker on their right flat mirror - G.O.A.L. - meaning Get Out And Look. It only costs a bit of time, and you, the consummate trucker, will look far more professional stopping to look rather than running over something.
Another use for mirrors is proper lane placement of the rig. This is particularly helpful if you are climbing from one truck to another for whatever reason. A lot of cabs have the driver's seat placed in different locations relative to the centerline of the truck. A cabover, for instance, has the driver placed well to the far left edge of the cab - which is far wider than an older narrow cab conventional. Those older conventionals have the driver butted up against the shifter, which would be in the exact center of the cab. So, after you've driven a cabover for a while, your butt is used to being close to the centerline (zipper) of a two lane road. Climb into a conventional, and suddenly what was comfortable has a major portion of the truck placed into oncoming traffic. Checking where the trailer wheels are running in relation to the zipper and "fog line" clues a driver in to where the truck is riding. Most trucks these days are conventionals, but there is enough difference between some to make a difference when comparing where the driver sits. Kenworth W900s and Peterbilt 359/379/389s have fairly narrow cabs compared to Internationals, Volvos, and say, Century class Freightliners. Looking at my picture, you can see that the rig is "over" to the right a ways, but it's because of the width of the load - the tanks are not over the "zipper." I can assure you that I'm hanging the load over the "fog line." We oversize haulers "live on the fog line."
That little tip applies to pickups, cars and SUVs pulling trailers, too. This incident wouldn't have happened if the guy had a clue where his trailer wheels were as he was motoring down the road. He had no excuse, because his trailer was wider than his Pathfinder, and the trailer wheels could be easily seen from his stock mirrors, had he set them correctly and actually used 'em. But, expecting intelligence from the general motoring public has proven to be a futile gesture (and this includes truckers, too). Best to drive defensively, and mirrors are a great tool for doing just that.