If you’ve ever driven across the Midwest on an especially windy day, you may have seen a semi-truck laying on its side just off the shoulder. While this is certainly frightening, the truth is it’s not all that uncommon. But to understand why this happens, we need to look at why trucks shouldn’t drive in windy weather.
Sailing on the Highways
The more surface area an object has, the harder the wind will push against it. Where small sedans might get nudged out of their lane in strong winds, a semi-truck’s trailer acts like a sail. All that extra space creates a force multiplier effect, which means that the pushing force put on the truck is tens of times greater than it is for smaller vehicles. That, combined with a higher fulcrum point (the pivot point of a lever), means trucks driving in strong winds are an accident waiting to happen.
While this effect can be mitigated by a full cargo load, empty trucks and those with improper weight distribution are especially susceptible to being knocked over by the wind. When that happens, it’s not just the truck driver who is at risk; it’s everyone around them.
A truck tipping over can potentially land on vehicles driving alongside them. Likewise, the sudden motion of a truck turning over can catch drivers off-guard, potentially resulting in a rear-end collision or even a pileup. Because the stakes are so high, it begs the question as to what truck drivers are supposed to do when it’s too dangerous to travel.
If wind speed is above 60mph, the best thing a truck driver can do is pull over and wait. While it’s often wise to find a truck stop, that’s not always an option on the highways. Instead, many truck drivers will look to put any permanent structure between themselves and wind. In a pinch, that could even mean a highway overpass.
If there aren’t any structures nearby, the truck driver must act quickly to reduce the force of the wind on their vehicle. They can do that by pulling over and parking perpendicular to the direction of the wind. By facing the front of the vehicle toward the wind, the driver creates less resistance for the wind to pass over their vehicle. And while it may cost them a few minutes on their route, it could potentially save lives.
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