Why Lorry Drivers Aren’t As Selfish As You Think


Weve all suffered, sitting behind a lorry for mile after mile while it overtakes another lorry with a speed differential of 0.05 mph. Frustrating, annoying, and downright selfish.

Or is it? We sat down and drew up a list of the five most annoying things that lorry drivers do and instead of whinging about them, we researched the problems instead. The results are fascinating and left us with a new respect for the Knights of the Road.

1. Overtaking very, very slowly

Busy motorway

Lorries that weighmore than 7.5 tonnes (and some that weight less than that) are artificially limited to a maximum speed of 56 mph and are subject to a speed limit of 50 mph on dual carriageways and 60 mph on motorways.

However, there are variances in the actual speed the limiter is set to – so some lorries will be limited to 53 mph, while others might be able to access a heady 58. So if a faster lorry meets a slower lorry, the temptation is to overtake -albeit slowly.

But why bother overtaking in the first place? After all, a change in speed of a few mph isnt going to make much of a difference, is it? The answer is possibly. Tachograph regulations, which monitor speed, driving stint duration, and rest breaks, are notoriously unforgiving and if a break is due, then it has to be taken. By law.

Even worse, when youve reached your maximum driving time for the day thats it; you have no choice but to pull over and turn the engine off. So a gain of five minutes on a journey over the length of a day might make the difference between getting home, or sleeping in the cab in a layby.

2. Pulling out in front of you

Volvo road train

Related to the point above, who hasnt had to brake sharply when a lorry has pulled out right in front of you on a dual carriageway? Cue much flashing of headlights, sounding of the horn and gesticulating with one, or more, fingers.

The reason truckers do this is because a lorry loses speed much more quickly than it can gain it. So, if a slower lorry baulks it, it can either overtake or hang back. If it hangs back the driver will lose precious speed, speed it can only regain slowly, adding to the journey time (see the first point).

Acceleration costs fuel too and if there is one thing a fleet manager scrutinizes even more closely than the tachograph its the fuel consumption. If the driver nips out causing you fleeting inconvenience (and, if were honest, they are rarely dangerous when they pull out, are they? It’s not like they’re hard to miss…) they can get on with their journey – and you can accelerate to regain your cruising speed with relative ease.

3. Turning left


Some commentators suggest that up to half of all deaths of cyclists in the city can be attributed to lorries, with many being crushed by heavy goods vehicles turning left at junctions. While no one is suggesting that any lorry driver could walk away from a fatal accident with anything other than a ruined life, surely they could do something differently to save lives, cant they?

When a lorry turns left, it needs to first move out to the right to give itself room to turn, a problem that is familiar to anyone who has ever towed a trailer or a caravan. This is something that many cyclists and car drivers dont realize. So when they see a gap, they think theyll have the time and space to nip through. Many make it, but some dont.

The answer might be for more vigilance on the part of lorry drivers at critical junctions. The mainproblem though is more likely to lie with other road users who just dont appreciate how much room an articulated lorry needs or how bad their rearward visibility can be. As the sign on the back says: if you cant see my mirrors, I cant see you -something wed all do well to remember.

Oh, and never, ever ride up alongside a lorry that is waiting at a junction. Is the few seconds you’d potentially save worth getting your car crushed for, or falling under the wheels of a 44-tonne wagon?

4. Jack-knifed lorries


How often have you been stuck in a traffic jam for hours on the motorway, only to find that an idiot lorry driver has managed to jack-knife his lorry, causing traffic mayhem for the rest of us?

As ever, although the lorry driver might sometimes be at fault, generally he isnt. A fully laden articulated lorry could weigh 44 tonnes and be 18.75 metres in length. As such, it carries huge momentum and isnt the most nimble vehicle on the road. If, for example, a car driver brakes harshly in front of it the lorry will be forced to brake hard, an action that can lock its wheels temporarily, even with ABS.

This causes the tractor unit to slow more quickly than the trailer. The trailer carries its speed forward, pivoting around the locked wheels pushing the cab forward. If everything isnt in a completely straight line, a jack-knife will occur.

With a complete jack-knife – one where the trailer and tractor unit are facing in different directions the driver cannot even drive out of the problem and must wait to be recovered, hence the long delays. The car driver, meanwhile, has probably driven off unaware that he has caused a problem.

5. Blocking the road while unloading

Lorry driver onboard

It doesnt take much to bring the high street to a standstill, and often a single lorry unloading at peak times will do it. Frustrating, for sure, but is there an alternative?

Probably not. Shop staff have to be there to receive the goods and while they could, in theory, be there outside of their traditional opening hours theyre going to have to be paid, which will lead to higher prices on the shelves. There is also the problem of noise; who wants to be woken up by a lorry being unloaded at 6 in the morning?

Retailers on edge-of-town retail parks dont suffer from either problem, having carefully designed loading and unloading areas. While they might have contributed to a reduction in the number of lorries unloading in the town centre during the day, wouldnt you rather be inconvenienced now and then and still have a vibrant high street?


So, thats our list of lorry related gripes; can you think of any we’ve missed?

Weighing it all up, I can’t help but feel that lorry drivers get quite a hard time of it. There’s genuine reasons for everything that annoys us. So the next time you’re out on the roads and a trucker pulls out in front of you, takes 5 minutes to overtake another lorry and then jacknifes during a left turn, just remember that they’re trying their hardest to be safe on the roads.

More importantly, we hope that this post helps you to be more aware of all HGV drivers on the road, and helps make the roads a safer place for everybody.

(Lorry driver image: Mark Eslick on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license 2.0)

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