Researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) are visiting 25 high schools in Virginia, West Virginia, and Delaware to teach driver’s education students about truck safety through interactive demonstrations.

Students rotate through several educational stations around VTTI’s tractor-trailer to learn firsthand about blind spots, proper following distances, and other road sharing tips. They also take turns sitting behind the wheel of the cab so they can see for themselves the lack of visibility a truck driver has compared to other drivers. The program, called Sharing the Road, is funded by a $107,820 grant from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

“Based on our research, students tend to retain driver safety information better when they learn it in a hands-on way as opposed to just reading about it in a textbook,” said Matthew Camden, Senior Research Associate for VTTI’s Center for Truck and Bus Safety. “Our goal is to demonstrate proper procedures for sharing the road with large trucks and to give students a better idea of what the road actually looks like from the driver’s seat of a heavy vehicle.”

The institute’s naturalistic research footage indicates that young and older drivers alike have some misconceptions when it comes to driving around trucks. The most common mistake drivers seem to make is merging over too quickly, according to Camden.

“Our data suggests that drivers in general tend to misjudge how much space they should allow in order to pass a tractor-trailer,” he said. “We have been telling the students that they need to be able to see the entire front of the truck, from the bumper to the top of the cab, before merging. This equates to about 80 feet of space, which should provide enough room in the event of an emergency, such as car failure or a deer darting out into traffic.”

Since the project began last spring, the researchers have visited high schools in Montgomery, Roanoke, and Bedford counties in Virginia, Mercer county in West Virginia, and most recently, Sussex county in Delaware. Grant opportunities to continue the educational program are being explored.

See the VTTI news story for more information.