My dad drove a big truck for several years, “cross country” as he referred to it. I was young and I don’t remember much about it, but mom told the story for years how my sister and I would giggle and run for the door when we heard that big diesel turn toward home. He hauled pipe and today when I see a truck loaded with pipe I think about how difficult those years must have been with a young family.

As a girl, I didn’t care about job security or how much knowledge it took to operate a big rig. I stood by the road or peered out the back windshield of a car many times, pumping my arm up and down in the air, signaling the approaching big rig driver to honk the air horn. The noise of the tires and roar of the engine as the truck passed was exciting.

It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I actually took my first ride in a big truck. It gave me a new perspective at the great responsibility the driver of that truck feels as he travels the road with smaller vehicles, motorcycles and even cyclists.

It was a little scary for me, not because the truck was dangerous, but because the motorists darting in and out of traffic didn’t know how quickly things could change because of a bad driving decision. One driver who pulled out in front of us on US 59 at the Angelina River Bridge came dangerously close to finding out.

We forget that it takes much longer (in time and distance) to stop a truck. A loaded truck will weigh up to or in excess of 80,000 pounds and requires a longer acceleration and deceleration time than a vehicle.

A 3,500-pound vehicle doesn’t stand a chance up against an 80,000-pound truck/trailer. If you aren’t convinced, look at a few pictures or watch a video of a big truck accident, because you sure don’t want to look at one up close. They are truly unforgettable and not in a good way.

Trucking is big business in Texas. On Interstate highways, trucking is the predominant way to move freight across the state. In East Texas, loaded trucks travel our roads each day. Safety is a primary concern for TxDOT with regard to commercial truck traffic on Texas roadways.

With that in mind, there are a few safety tips that might raise the odds for your survival as you share the road with big rigs. Sit down with your teen driver and go over them because it could raise their odds also.

You should know how and when to pass a truck safely. Make sure that the entire truck appears in your rearview mirror before returning to the lane. It is common for a car to be “clipped” when a driver cuts too closely in front of a truck, thus sending it across the roadway. It’s not the truck’s fault.

If you brake suddenly in front of a truck, it is likely the truck can’t stop before hitting you, thus rolling up onto your vehicle. It’s not the truck’s fault. Always leave approximately four car lengths between the back of your vehicle and the front of any large truck.

Trucks have what is known as “no zones.” No zones are dangerous areas for vehicles to travel because they are not in view of the truck driver. The four blind spots where vehicles will disappear from a truck driver’s view are just behind the truck cab on both sides, directly behind the truck and directly in front of the front bumper.

Remember, if you are behind a truck and you can’t see a truck driver’s side mirror, he can’t see you. A truck turning right will take up more than one lane to make the turn. You must look for that right turn signal before pulling up beside the truck. As he turns right, he will hit your vehicle because he can’t see you. It is not the truck’s fault. Stay out of those no zone areas, if possible.

Tailgating is another invitation to a severe collision. If a truck stops in front of you, it is likely that you will run up under a trailer when following too closely. Trailer bumpers are not impact absorbing like small vehicles, and they can come right up over the hood and into the front seat. It’s not the truck’s fault.

Having spent many years as a newspaper reporter, I saw my share of crashes. Many of them involved big trucks and more times than not, ended in fatalities. With more than 6,500 lane miles in the Lufkin District and 8.8 million daily vehicle miles traveled in the district, it is important that you and your loved ones remember to be safe around the hundreds of trucks you will see each day.

We expect those numbers to grow in coming years as Interstate 69 and Interstate 14 expand through the Lufkin District, creating additional lane miles to transport freight across the state and “cross country.” Be safe. Drive smart.