You’re on the highway, making your daily commute, when the truck ahead of you puts its turn signal on. A few moments later, it pulls out, and now trucks are blocking both lanes. Minutes pass; neither truck has pulled ahead of the other, and you can feel everyone around you getting annoyed at yet another “elephant race.” But why does this happen? Why do truckers pass each other?
The Elephant Race
An elephant race describes a situation where one trucker attempts to pass another but doesn’t have a great enough speed difference to pass quickly and safely. This puts both truckers in a difficult position. In some cases, speeding up may be impossible. At the same time, the other truck may find it difficult to slow down.
The result is that both lanes are blocked, nearby drivers are frustrated, and the risk of a truck accident increases until the passing trucker pulls ahead and returns to the slow lane. Often, this isn’t the driver’s fault. Instead, it’s a matter of a truck’s inner workings and the mechanics of moving heavy objects at high speeds.
The first question is why the passing trucker can’t just speed up until they pull ahead and merge back into their lane. The answer is that they can’t. Major trucking companies equip their vehicles with a device called a “governor.” This piece of equipment physically prevents a truck from exceeding a speed limit set by the company.
The problem then is two-fold. First, each company sets a slightly different maximum speed for their trucks. At the same time, each truck’s speedometer registers a slightly different speed, which means that a truck showing 65 MPH on the speedometer might be traveling as slow as 63 miles per hour.
It seems like a small difference, but it adds up at scale. If one truck is locked at 60 miles per hour, a truck moving at 63 miles per hour will gain on it at a rate of 5ft per second. That means the faster trucker needs to choose between passing and slowing down.
Trucks are huge, heavy vehicles. Getting up to optimal speed takes both time and fuel. When a truck slows downs, it means higher fuel consumption, more frequent trips to the gas station, and potentially falling behind on their schedule. In the interest of keeping momentum, truckers would rather risk passing the slower truck.
Remember the 63 MPH truck gaining at 5ft per second? That translates to the actual passing as well. When a truck pulls out to pass, they’re limited at their maximum speed. That means they’ll crawl ahead of the other truck at just a few feet per second.
To complete the pass and merge back, a trucker needs to move both the length of the slow truck and then provide additional space greater than the length of their own truck. Unfortunately, that usually means blocking traffic in both lanes.
Because of momentum and fuel concerns, the slower trucker is unlikely to hit the brakes and speed up the process. That means longer elephant races and a higher chance of an accident when the faster truck merges back.
A truck’s load and engine have an enormous impact on the vehicle’s acceleration. That’s one reason why a fully loaded truck may move much slower than an empty truck of the same make and model.
The extra weight of a loaded trailer makes it much more difficult to take inclines, particularly steep slopes. This can make an elephant race unavoidable as the faster trucker feels they have no alternative but to get around a vehicle struggling to get up to speed.
Elephant Race Safety
If you see a truck trying to merge, the best thing you can do is give them space and allow them to pass. When you see a truck’s turn signal, provide two or three car lengths of space and flash your headlights to let them know it’s safe to go.
By doing this, you’ll help speed up traffic in the long run and prevent a potentially catastrophic accident caused by driving in the truck’s no-zone.
If you or someone you love suffered severe injuries or even wrongful death in a trucking crash, you might have a case. If you’d like an experienced Riverdale truck accident attorney from Law Offices of Falanga & Chalker to evaluate your case, please don’t hesitate to send us an email or call (470) 450-1164.