A salute to truck drivers

I’ve talked before in this space about the fact that my wife Letty and I live in our motor home and rack up a fair number of miles each year getting from one place to another. Full disclosure, occasionally we do stay in one place for a few weeks at a time, like in May when we park near the Indianapolis Speedway. Despite those weeks of parking, we also drive a lot.

During these drives I try to put myself in the truck driver’s shoes. I don’t mean to say that I put on as many miles as the average trucker, but Letty and I have had many long days behind the wheel. Some of those days are good and some are bad.

On good days we can cover a fair number of miles. On those days we encounter little to no road construction, there are no accidents that delay us, we travel at a consistent speed, and it seems like other people on the road are courteous and allow space when changing lanes to get in front of us. On those days, we are not tired when we arrive at our destination for the evening.

But on other days–the bad ones–it seems like we are barely moving either because of road construction or accidents, and other drivers seem to think theirs is the only vehicle on the road and that they have some divine right to weave in and out of traffic with no regard for the fact that a bigger vehicle–a motor home or tractor-trailer–cannot stop on a dime. It seems that on those days, I have to be hyper vigilant and drive more defensively than usual. I always try to pay attention when I am driving our motor home and try not to be distracted.

On the bad days, I can feel my knuckles gripping the steering wheel as I try to compensate for the bad driving of others. On those days, I am very tired after driving, and we usually stop much earlier than the good days. See also: Let your drivers help you improve fuel economy

I don’t drive long distances every day, but I can imagine the toll a string of bad driving days can have on a truck driver. I wish every driver of a passenger car could spend some time behind the wheel of Class 8 truck, or even a motor home, just to get some idea of the skill it takes to navigate highways, roads, and bridges smoothly and safely. It takes more to time and distance to stop these big rigs than those little cars.

I bet if they did that, they would think twice before cutting in front of a truck without leaving much space. I know that isn’t going to happen, so I think it is incumbent on all of us in the trucking industry to make sure everyone understands just how hard it is to be a truck driver and to help people appreciate all truckers–especially those that drive many miles with no accidents. One of the highlights of my year is to attend the truck driver awards luncheon at the annual National Private Truck Council.

Frankly, given some of what I’ve seen from the driver’s seat of my motor home, I am in awe of drivers who achieve those safe driving milestones.

Truth be told, I am in awe of anyone who drives a tractor-trailer for a living. 

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE).

He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.