Vacation Season Mayhem
It’s summertime, and the driving is not easy as more four-wheelers take to the road
By Jim Kneiszel
You’ve heard the term “amateur night” uttered to describe a variety of situations where the masses get involved in an activity that goes more smoothly when left to the professionals. For truckers, the next few months might as well be called “amateur season,” as highway novices head out on road trips across the country, testing the nerves of the professionals who must drive alongside them.
A few typical scenarios: An old duffer at the wheel of an RV has his hands full fighting crosswinds, and he hasn’t figured out yet that he has to merge into your lane. A couple of bikers just want to keep rolling up on the throttle and are oblivious to potential trouble ahead.
As a professional driver on the highway, you have to feel like a brand new kindergarten teacher charged with controlling a marauding group of 5-year-olds who have zero attention span. It was so much easier out here before the vacation and construction season began.
Trucking companies are well aware of this safety issue, and as summer approaches, many carriers require drivers to brush up on common-sense — but critical — defensive driving skills. Bill Osborn, vice president of safety for Celadon Trucking Services, says situational awareness is the key for coping with the vacation season mayhem.
“It’s a constant vigil of the 360 degrees around your truck. You need to anticipate what might occur in the future,” he says. “You can expect folks in unfamiliar vehicles and on unfamiliar roads to have uneven speed, drift in the lanes more than normal and make last-minute maneuvers.
“The professional driver is able to draw on having seen all of this before and anticipate what might happen next,” Osborn says. “That 80,000 pounds doesn’t stop on a dime, and you have to know what’s going on around you.’’
Osborn sees to it that Celadon drivers have access to the interactive defensive driving refresher, Instructional Technologies Tread-1 system. They can access training modules at company terminals or can take CDs with them on the road to review on their own computers. At Roehl Transport, Brian Hammond, the orientation and driver development manager, offers drivers Roehl News Network audio programs and company newsletters that focus a portion of the discussion on safety tips and reviews.
Hammond says RVs are some of the biggest concerns on the summer roadways, naming Niagara Falls and the Yellowstone National Park area as two places where he always dreaded encountering so many campers. He often wonders why there aren’t similar licensing requirements for driving the RVs as there are for semi-truck drivers. He believes truckers do a great job of coping with the RVers and others. “I applaud the professional drivers who rack up millions of safe miles,” Hammond says. “These guys are incredible. A lot of these folks are unsung heroes, just average people who go out and do a job and do it well.”
Brian Hammond, Roehl Transport orientation and driver development manager — and a million-mile driver — emphasizes watching your speed and stopping distance to stay safe during vacation season. “Expect the expected,” he says. “Expect there will be dads driving a van or station wagon with their attention focused on what’s going on in the backseat. Expect people to pull out in front of you, no matter how fast you’re going. Expect the secondary roads to be congested. Slow down and stay back.”