Last month, a tragic multi-vehicle accident took the lives of 5 promising young nursing students and injured two more. The young women were en route to St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital in Savannah to begin their last day of their first clinical set of rotations, or hands-on instruction. The girls – Caitlyn Baggett, Morgan Bass, Emily Clark, Abbie Deloach and Catherine (McKay) Pittman were all juniors at Georgia Southern College.

A state trooper indicated that the accident occurred when the eastbound driver of a tractor-trailer rear ended the women on Interstate 16, who were in two separate vehicles. The line of cars the women were in had slowed down for another accident. The entire accident consisted of these two passenger vehicles, another two passenger vehicles, and three tractor-trailers.

Because of their size and the potential damage they can cause, it is not surprising that accidents involving passenger cars and tractor-trailers frequently end with tragic consequences for the passenger car occupants. In fact, a recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study determined that 76 percent of fatalities from tractor-trailer crashes are the occupants of the passenger vehicle. It isn’t difficult to understand how tractor trailer accidents can happen: tractor-trailers take longer to stop than passenger vehicles, and are more difficult to maneuver both due to their sheer size and due to, sometimes, the potential for unequal weight distribution. These factors, along with others, may turn what would be a normal stop or movement in a passenger car into an accident when a tractor trailer performs the same movement. If the driver of a tractor-trailer is distracted, the danger can very quickly become deadly.

Here are some tips for defensive driving around tractor trailers and how to prevent tractor trailer accidents:

  • Do not change lanes abruptly around tractor trailers. If the driver of a tractor trailer sees a sudden movement, he may also respond abruptly. To that end…
  • Always use turn signals when changing lanes.
  • Drive within the speed limit.
  • Be aware that truck’s blind spots are large, and cater your driving accordingly. If you can’t see the truck driver in his mirrors, he or she can’t see you.
  • Keep a safe distance. Experts recommend keeping a distance of 20-25 car lengths between you and the tractor-trailer.
  • Drive an appropriate speed for climate conditions.
  • If facing an emergency, pull completely off the road.
  • Do not pass vehicles unless it is safe to do so. If the lanes indicate it is not safe to pass, do not pass!
  • Do not participate in road rage.
  • Allow for even more space between you and the tractor-trailer when going uphill. If the truck driver is struggling to switch gears, the truck may move backwards.
  • Avoid driving next to a tractor-trailer.

Our thoughts are with the families of these young women. Please drive safely.

Steve was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. As was the practice for new doctors his father worked day and night during his medical residency at Charity Hospital there. Steve comes from a long line of doctors. His father, his grandfather, his great grandfather, even two uncles were all specialists and/or surgeons in their chosen medical specialties, including internal medicine specialist, obstetrics / gynecology, neurosurgery and general practice / surgery. His great-great grandfather was the Surgeon General of Ohio during the Civil War.