I’m a professional driver. I’m also a father and loving spouse. I constantly worry about the safety of my family, particularly when they have to travel busy city highways and expressways. Considering the fact that we live in an area rich with tourism, I’m constantly stressing.
The nature of stress has been a topic of debate for years. Poor driving skills, aggressive driving, road rage, inconsiderate drivers. The list goes on. A vast majority of accidents and road violence are a direct result of these things. People rushing from point A to point B, aiming to save just a few minutes. They wrecklesslesly weave in and out of traffic while pushing the envelope, reaching speeds that make it impossible for most people to recover if control is lost.
I’ve been dealing with these types of drivers for years. Before I opted for a career in Professional Truck Driving I worked in EMS. Driving an ambulance, I can tell you that most people are just as inconsiderate around emergency vehicles (yes even police) as they are around everyday traffic. What’s worse, people are even less considerate of a large tractor-trailor driving down the expressway. I can’t fathom how there haven’t been more accidents than we hear about the way people cut these vehicles off, blaming them for traffic congestion because a tractor-trailor is “slow”. On several occassions I’ve been cut-off, nearly run off an onramp once, because a passenger car decided to lay on the accelorator and pass me at the last second while I was attempting a lane change in a tractor hauling a 53′ trailor. Everytime it happens I sigh and shake my head. I don’t yell out my window or shake my fist, or throw a middle-finger up in the window. I feel sorry for them. I know they have family, maybe even kids. Close friends, someone they love. I consider that they will end up in a near-fatal if not fatal accident by driving the way they do. It’s a shame that the people they know will have to cope with that trauma and potential loss.
What amazed me the most when I started my new career is how considerate most truck drivers are. Most, not all. I am well aware that there are plenty of bad seeds out there. However I never noticed the subtle but simple things professional drivers are doing to make the roads safer not only for each other but for their families and our own. Yours as well. What could a truck driver possibly do to make the road safer, right? You’d be surprised.
Most expressways outside of major cities run two lanes. Two in one direction, two in another. Trucks travel in the right most lane unless required to do otherwise. Because shipping companies have varying standards, they all have different governor settings on the engines of their trucks. Some have no governor. When a truck comes up on another and has to pass them, several things take place in a matter of minutes that passenger-vehicle drivers take for granted. We don’t. We impliment certain procedures every time, though they may vary somewhat, we do them everytime before attempting a lane change to pass another vehicle, especially another tractor-trailor.
Look in all 3 mirrors (or more if they have them) to check for traffic. If traffic exists, gauge the distance from the traffic to the truck. Can I clear the slower moving vehicle and get back in my lane without holding up traffic? We try to avoid situations that may cause regular motorists to become frustrated and drive aggressivley. When we block traffic, gauranteed a passenger-vehicle will tail-gate us until we move.
If traffic is clear, we then signal and move over into the passing lane. If our speed is only slightly higher than the slower tractor-trailor due to the governor, the truck driver we’re passing will often drop their speed by another 3-5mph alowing us to clear the lane quickly. As we edge past the nose of the slower tractor-trailor, that driver will signal us with their lights that we are clear of their rig with enough space to start coming back into the lane. We signal, change over, and flash our marker lights (or hazards) to signal the truck we passed that basically we appreciate them making space and helping us move safely.
When passenger vehicles come up along side of us, many of us make an attempt to give them as much room as possible. A lot of people are skitish around big rigs. So we will try to hug the outside of our lane opposite motorists.
When we see vehicles along the side of the road on the shoulder, most of us will immediately change lanes away from the stopped vehicle if it’s safe to move over. It sucks trying to change a tire or get in and out of your car when a Semi goes by right next to you. The force of the wind has been known to knock people down, as well as actually “suck” them into traffic.
I know that not every professional truck driver practices these simple steps when driving. Since I’ve started this career I can say that perhaps 1 out of every 10 drivers of tractor-trailors is a bad egg. I was amazed at the care and consideration these gruff, roadgrizzled farts have for one another and other vehicles on the road. What floored me though is that they actually have it right. If drivers of passenger vehicle put even half the effort into driving carefully that professional drivers do, the number of fatal accidents would decrease dramaticaly. One argument might be that “we have to drive carefully because we carry so much weight and can do a lot more damage”. I’d say that a 4 door sedan is just as likely to kill someone as a tractor-trailor, if not more so.
When I hired into my company, it was verbally beaten into me that no freight I hual, no matter how expensive or how late it might be, is more important than the life of me or anyone else out on the road. I wish that kind of message was as effective on teenagers and even adult drivers with poor driving abilities and judgement. I’d give my right arm to see passenger-vehicles begin to behave like tractor-trailors on the road. It’s not just your family that has to pay for a tragedy. It’s the other families as well.
I’m not sure when the courtesies began among truck drivers, because I’ve never in my life noticed the flashing of lights as they passed one another. Perhaps I was just “one of them” and never cared to pay attention. Now that I’m behind that wheel though it’s an entirely different world out there. I just wish there were some way to get the message out to more people.