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The Great Divide

By on March 1, 2009
RoadKing Mag

When a four-wheeler sits in the driver’s seat and turns the key, you just know there could be trouble.”

So says Detroit-based driver James Tremblay, tapping into a mindset that is extremely common among truckers. If only their big rigs could have the highways all to themselves.

No doubt, those driving four-wheel cars and trucks may very well wish for the same thing — but there’s no getting around the fact that the two groups have to share the road with each other. Though truckers’ safety records are scrutinized intently, they have to adapt to the fact that most four-wheel drivers simply aren’t familiar with the particular challenges of driving trucks.

The Share the Road program, sponsored by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), addresses that knowledge gap. Share the Road offers presentations and training sessions across the country in which program representatives and active truckers help four-wheel drivers understand how to drive safely around trucks.

“We have professional drivers who go out to high schools, motorcycle rallies, auto shows, community fairs,” says Elisabeth Barna, vice president of strategic planning and outreach for ATA. “We take a truck and drivers and they actually do demonstrations for the motoring public.”

Share the Road seeks to educate the public about basic things like truck blind spots and required stopping distances — the kinds of things a motorist won’t  find obvious if he or she has never driven a truck.

According to a variety of truckers, the public has much to learn.

Marthijn Jennings, who has been driving for 12 years for a small company in northern Alberta, emphasizes that four-wheel drivers often forget the room they need to leave when passing a truck. “(I’ve seen people) pulling holiday trailers passing us, and forgetting that they’ve got that 40-foot trailer behind that half-ton, and cutting us off,” Jennings says.

According to Dave May, who drives for Conley Freight and gives presentations for the Share the Road program, motorists’ failure to understand trucks’ required stopping distances can become especially dangerous when approaching construction zones. Not wanting to get stuck behind a slow-moving truck in a one-lane zone, motorists frequently zoom ahead of a truck, only to have to quickly slow down as the cones and flashing lights approach.

That’s easy for them to do — much harder for the truckers.

“When you talk about stopping distance, at highway speeds it can take a fully loaded truck the length of a football field — plus both end zones — to come to a stop,” May says. “Motorists will speed up and cut you short. They don’t realize that construction goes to a bottleneck.”

Kyle McDonald, an Ontario-based driver who has been driving for three years, says he has developed the ability to anticipate dangerous moves by four-wheel drivers, and take defensive measures to protect himself.

“One scary moment that I had was hauling oil for Quaker State, going down the 401 in Toronto,” McDonald says. “I am in the right lane and I look at this car, and I don’t really know why, but I had this feeling that she was coming over. Just as I let go of the gas, she felt like coming over three lanes and getting off the highway.”

May says McDonald’s expert anticipation is the sort of thing that can prevent disaster. “Always leave yourself a safety cushion,” May says. “Leave yourself an out. That sums it up.”

While the Share the Road program tries to enlighten as many motorists as it can, truckers are best advised to expect just about anything from four-wheel motorists and to have a plan for what to do.

Changing point of view

James Albert, who drives for Dartmouth, Nova Scotia-based Halifax Transfer, says four-wheel drivers don’t seem to understand the limits for trucks that need to be in the correct lane at the correct time — traveling at the correct speed.

“You are trying to pass, and they speed up and make it hard to get by,” Albert says. “Or they are parked on the shoulder and just pull out like you’re not there, or they make like they’re pulling over and then change their minds and come out in the hammer lane at 20 miles per hour.”

Motorists who participate in Share the Road get the opportunity to sit in the cab of a truck and see for themselves the limitations of mirrors, as well as the severe blind spots that are unlike anything a motorist experiences in a car.

“When they get in the truck, we will set up four to six vehicles, on average, all around the truck,” May says. “They look out their mirror, and there can be a car 200 feet behind them, and they don’t see it. They’ll be looking all around them in the mirror, acting like you moved the cars. And then they get out of the cab and say, ‘Oh my God, I could almost touch it. It’s right there.’”

Those revelations have real impact, especially on young drivers. “My favorite Share the Road events have been working with high school students, because it’s so important that they learn good safe habits before they get older and develop bad driving habits,” says Al Adams, a Roadway driver from Berlin, Ohio.

When a high school driver’s education class in Billings, Mont., attended a demonstration, the students came away with valuable insights they would use as soon as they earned their driver’s license. “I learned that there are huge blind spots on either side of the truck and you really need to stay out of them to keep safe,” one teenage girl said.

But even adult motorists get the message. One four-wheeler who participated in a recent demonstration in Jacksonville, Fla., climbed out of the truck with a new attitude. “I travel on the road with these trucks every day,” he said, “and I have newfound respect for these gentleman.”

Educating four-wheelers

Teaching car drivers how to operate their vehicle alongside big trucks

Share the Road
American Trucking Associations
Drivers and safety professionals set up simulated highway lanes that show common truck/car accident scenarios.

America’s Road Team
American Truck Associations
This outreach program dedicated to promoting the image of professional truckers emphasizes safety. Drivers with long safe-driving records speak to their fellow drivers and the general public about staying safe on the road.

Share the Road Safely
Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA)
The program asks professional drivers to participate in “No Zone” demonstrations to the general driving public, and/or
use instructive “No Zone” decals on their trucks.

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