Pro drivers clear air on the practice of flashing brights to signal space to merge, and a highway-speed-cutoff PSA

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Updated Oct 29, 2021

This one’s in part for the drivers of four-wheeled vehicles, excepting perhaps any non-dually hotshots, in the audience.

“Mr. Roadshow” Gary Richards of California Bay Area newspaper The Mercury News authors a Q&A-style column related to on-road questions for readers. He’s made the halls of this blog before, though it’s been nearly a decade, with a story about “foggy” (not “fatigued” but fog of the “pea soup” variety) driving.

His Nov. 28 installment of the column, in which he seemed to give the big 10-4 to the appropriateness of flashing brights as a tractor-trailer passes to signal there’s space for a safe merge, brought the ire of plenty in the trucking community among his readers. Drivers responded in droves to Richards’ Flashing your lights can help passing truckers,” many of course quick to note that a flash of the lights off and back on, or vice versa as the case may be, is the appropriate space-signaling protocol — not bright lights — and particularly at night.

As hauler Fred Goodwin put it: “Flashing high beams, especially at night, blinds the trucker by interfering with night vision. Whoever started this … flashing high beams needs to be drawn and quartered.”

Duly, Mr. Roadshow followed up to correct the record, or at least get these viewpoints on bright-light flashes into the discussion. Find the follow-up via this link. 

A-and as long as you’re here, my fellow motorists, our own Gary Buchs, too, has a particular recommendation on a way we can help each other manage the more impatient among us out on the roadway. If there’s anything that pretty much all truckers can agree on, it’s that what I’ll call the “highway-speed cutoff” is an infuriating, and generally speaking unsafe, practice.

How close do you follow in your personal vehicle?How close do you follow in your personal vehicle?

What does that mean? Merging too quickly in front of a tractor-trailer when you’re passing it at highway speed. It probably goes without saying, but an 80,000-lb. combination rig takes much longer to stop than does your four-door. Depending on speed, weight of the truck and brake performance, it can take one to two football fields of length (360-720 feet, including end zones) or well more to bring a truck to a controlled stop.

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“If we’re going to pass, let’s learn to pass safely,” says Buchs. Avoid passing a truck on the right, for one, where blind spots for the driver are more extensive.

And avoid the highway-speed cutoff yourself, only merging with at at least 100 feet behind you and the front of the truck as you pull away. And there’s plenty you can do, too, to discourage that impatient pickup driver on your back bumper to jerk around you on the right, in front of the big truck, as you do so.

As you’re passing, “when you get to the front of the truck,” Buchs says, “when you’re beside that truck’s front tire, if you’re going to change lanes in front of the truck to the right, signal your intentions now.” Go ahead and hit the right turn signal before you get all the way around the truck. “When you can see the full front of the truck in your rear-view mirror, you’re about 100 feet in front of the truck by then.”

Merge right into the lane ahead of them, provided you have plenty space ahead of your vehicle as well, as Buchs notes that when it comes to following distance, at 100 feet you’re still too close to the truck if you happen to need to come to a quick dead stop yourself.

On a personal note: Before I met Gary some years ago now, I’d never used this particular tactic – the very early use of the turn signal before changing lanes in front of a truck. Now, though, with that impatient driver close on my back bumper in the left lane as we wheel around a slower moving big truck, hit that turn signal when even with the truck’s front, and the pickup will stay squarely behind you rather than swing over into the right lane mere feet ahead of the truck. Thus, you avoid yet another instance of the infuriating highway-speed cutoff — and like as not, you keep things just a little safer for everyone out there, impatient drivers notwithstanding.

And it works. Every single time.

Those truckers watching it play out behind you – well, I do suspect they might thank you.