Just the other day I read that a witness blamed the 95 vehicle pile up on I-77 Easter Sunday morning on a tractor trailer. That may or may not be true. Police investigating at the scene said that there had been as many as 17 or more separate accidents. Sadly, at least 3 people lost their lives.
There is a huge amount of public outcry blaming big trucks for all sorts of things: air pollution, accidents, damage to public roads, and so on.
Next time you go shopping, whether to your favorite supermarket or your nearest mall, drive all around it. Do you see a rail siding anywhere? No? Then EVERYTHING in the store(s) traveled on a tractor trailer at least part of its journey to get to where you could purchase it. Even locally produced items are highly likely to have spent part of their existence on a big truck – seeds, fertilizer, etc.
How much thought have you given to your life if there were no tractor-trailers?
What about the men and women who drive them? An over-the-road driver may spend as long as two months living in what amounts to a closet driving all over the country before he or she has the chance to spend a week at home. Team drivers give a whole new meaning to ‘togetherness.’ Imagine spending that amount of time, 24/7 and for weeks on end, with even someone you love dearly.
Drivers are responsible for not only their own safety and the safety of the load they are responsible for but also for all those using the roads with them. There is a perception among many that OTR drivers are speeding merrily along the road, hopped up on drugs and ignoring anyone else on the road in their haste to get where they are going. Wrong! All fleet and most owner-operated tractors are governed and simply can not go any faster than between 62 mph and 66 mph. There are two reasons for this: 1. Diesel is more than $4 a gallon all over the country and keeping speed down saves the companies and owner-operators real money and 2. Drivers don’t want to pay the fines for speeding, which can be more than $1000 and may cost them their jobs. And drivers are subject to random drugs testing and yearly mandatory drug testing.
Next time you pull in front of a semi and then immediately slow down (usually because you had to speed up a lot to pass it) consider that the truck you just slowed down in front of may weigh close to 80,000 lbs. It’s a lot harder to slow down something that weighs that much. Pulling onto an interstate in front of a semi and then slowing down is just as dangerous.
You may have seen signs on trailers saying that if you can’t see the driver in his or her mirrors, he or she can’t see you, either. This isn’t just something entertaining trucking companies put on the back of their trailers to amuse you. This is for YOUR safety. You can’t expect a driver to make a (split-second, sometimes) decision that takes your safety into consideration if the driver is unaware you are 10 feet from the trailer doors. Drivers can’t reasonably be expected to keep track of a car they may have seen 10 miles ago behind them and know that the same car is now hidden behind a trailer 53′ long.
Drivers are under a lot of pressure in addition to trying to keep track of people operating cars who have no idea how dangerous their actions may be. Their load may consist of hazardous materials. This doesn’t mean just things like nuclear waste or dynamite. How about something probably in your own kitchen like vanilla extract? The list of hazmat cargoes may be surprising to most of us. Drivers have to know how to deal with possible spills of ALL of them.
Then there are time sensitive loads. This includes UPS loads, US Mail loads, FedEx loads, materials for a factory that practices ‘just in time’ manufacturing, refrigerated loads including produce, and many more. The driver is expected to deliver the load at the time specified, regardless of accidents, construction, bad weather, and unthinking drivers he or she may encounter along the way. A company driver or team that is consistently late will sooner or later be looking for another company to drive for. An owner-operator may find that his or her pay may be reduced or declined because the load wasn’t on time.
And adding to the pressure drivers are under are high value loads. Imagine being responsible for a couple of million dollars worth of cell phones or computer servers or even Victoria’s Secret goods. Hijacking is a constant problem for drivers and being involved in a hijacking can be dangerous or even fatal to the driver(s). Not just another day at work.
Next time you are encounter a truck idling at a truck stop consider that the truck may be keeping your food safe while it’s on its way to you and not just burning diesel for the sake of wasting money and polluting the air. What the driver is burning is money that would otherwise go into his or her own pocket or the pockets of his or her employer. Idling a truck when it is stopped is always a considered decision. Semis empty average perhaps 7.2 miles per gallon and pulling a load they may average closer to 6 mpg. At more than $4 per gallon burning diesel for no compelling reason just isn’t done.
Annoyed at being stuck behind a semi struggling its way up hill as its speed drops lower and lower? There may be 60,000 or more pounds on that rig and the driver may have a cushion of only an hour or two to make the delivery on time. Honking your horn (which the driver probably can’t hear) and flashing your lights (which if you are far enough behind the rig) the driver most likely is very well aware of will NOT increase the horsepower of his engine one bit. Be patient. Everyone will be safer.
Accidents happen. There are big rig drivers who make mistakes and are even careless about their driving. Any company driver or driver who leases his or her own rig to a company who is caught overloaded, speeding, or is at fault in an accident will not be driving for the company any longer. There is no tolerance for such behavior. The vast majority of drivers have driven hundreds of thousands or even millions of miles safely and average more than 2,000 miles a week. Can you say that?
Give a break to the men and women, often at considerable personal inconvenience to their private lives, who make the life you live possible.