Cape High students learn smart-driving tips around tractor-trailers

Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Walmart team up for roadway safety program
February 6, 2024

A free road safety program literally puts students in the driver’s seat to help them better understand issues faced by tractor-trailer drivers and how to maneuver safely around the large vehicles.

The Virginia Tech Sharing the Road with Trucks outreach program was created in 2017 after research into drivers education programs in all 50 states showed a lack of instruction on driving around tractor-trailers, said Scott Tidwell, a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute senior field research technician.

Speaking to Cape High drivers education students Jan. 23, Tidwell said 14 million registered trucks were on the road in 2021, delivering products Americans use daily.

During that year, he said, police reported 523,000 crashes that resulted in 58,000 deaths and 155,000 serious injuries; teens accounted for 11% of traffic fatalities. 

In crashes between trucks and passenger cars, he said, four out of five deaths come from the passenger vehicle. People are quick to blame the truck driver for crashes, he said, but research shows that 78% of crashes between trucks and passenger vehicles are the fault of the car driver. 

However, it doesn’t matter who is at fault, except for insurance purposes, Tidwell said, warning students that pitting their cars against a tractor-trailer is a battle they will never win.  

Dump trucks and school buses weigh about 26,000 lbs., he said, while tractor-trailers weigh 80,000 lbs. and live-haul chicken trucks commonly seen in the area weigh up to 90,000 lbs. A passenger car weighs 4,000 lbs.

Because they’re so heavy, they take longer to stop, he said, and tractor-trailers typically exceed 65 feet in length. Driving at 55 mph in good weather, he said it takes a tractor trailer the length of a football field to stop; in bad weather, it takes two football field lengths. 

The misconception is that because the drivers sit high they can see everything, but drivers in passenger vehicles have better visibility, Tidwell said. 

Tidwell shared a presentation that included actual videos and photos from accidents and near-misses involving tractor-trailers and passenger vehicles, and spoke with students about how drivers should stay aware of the truck’s four large blind spots, how to pass properly and maintain a safe following distance.

Following the presentation, students moved to the parking lot, where a large Walmart tractor-trailer sat amid various other vehicles, bicycles and cardboard cut-out humans positioned in its blind spots.

Paul Marks of Walmart Transportation in Smyrna welcomed students into the cab of his truck, where they sat in the driver’s seat while Marks asked them what they could see. 

“If you think you’re giving a truck enough space, triple it,” Marks said.

Tidwell said Virginia Tech brings in partners like Walmart to assist with events. In Delaware, the program partners with Delaware State Police Commercial Motor Vehicle Enforcement Unit, Delaware Motor Transport Association and various trucking fleets. 

At Cape, Cpl. Brian Thomson of the DSP Commercial Motor Vehicle Enforcement Unit met with students to talk safe driving. 

In addition to Walmart Transportation, Tidwell said the program also recently partnered with FedEx Ground out of New Castle and its line haul contractor S&L Trucking, and McKinney's Towing and Recovery out of Dover. 

The program is free for all schools, Tidwell said. Virginia Tech Sharing the Road with Trucks receives grant funding from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Delaware Department of Transportation, State Farm and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to provide education for schools and communities. 

To date, Tidwell said, the program has been held at nearly 260 high schools throughout Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Maine, reaching nearly 34,000 teen drivers. The program also participates in community events to reach older drivers as well, he said.

“We will be visiting at least a dozen other Delaware high schools over the next couple of months, including the annual Blue-Gold Basketball All-Star game, and will be at the Delaware State Fair this summer,” he said. 

Delaware Office of Highway Safety Community Relations Officer Meghan Niddrie said the demonstration gives students real-life perspective of what truck drivers see behind the wheel and how to recognize the unfamiliar blind spots that differ from a passenger vehicle.

“Hands-on exercises like Virginia Tech's tend to make a lasting impression that these students will remember and apply to their everyday lives when driving on Delaware roadways,” Niddrie said. “Learning about all aspects of road safety at a young age helps shape safer drivers from the beginning. We all need to follow the rules of the road and remember to share the road so that we can all arrive alive.”

Cape High driver education teacher Shannon Timmons said the program teaches kids not just how to be safe drivers, but also how to help truck drivers be safe. 

“It’s an opportunity to sit in the seat and really see what it’s like, in a safe environment,” she said. “It’s the most authentic experience we can give them.”

For safety tips, videos or to contact organizers to schedule an event, go to or email


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