Dear Motorist: An Open Letter to Motorists From a Truck Driver
by Franklin Katz
Frank’s Tax & Business Service, Kings Mountain, NC 28086
I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write to you. It’s not that I’m not thinking of you, but I’ve been busy. As we enter the Fall/Winter of 2013, it seems like a good time to get back in touch.
It may seem that I sit up here in the cab of my truck, looking out over the roof of your car, not paying any attention. The truth is I am always watching out for you. I’ve learned to see a slight movement of your head that tells me you are thinking of making a lane change. If we are approaching a freeway interchange or off ramp, I try to anticipate your next action. I know when you are on the phone, eating, changing the station on your radio, talking to your passengers, or shouting at your children in the back seat. I can usually tell when you are tired or impaired. I know when you’ve only got one hand on the steering wheel while the other is holding your cell phone as you tap out a text message (and of all the activities that get your attention, that one frightens me the most). I am keeping my eyes on you, all of you, all the time. I have no desire to cause injury to another human being and am well trained in doing whatever I can to prevent a collision, but I am only half of the equation.
Now I’d like to tell you some things about myself, so we can get better acquainted. When my full sized semi is loaded, it weighs at least 80,000 pounds. If my truck were to land on you, it would be like dropping forty or fifty cars on your head. Since it takes four times the distance to stop my truck than it does your car, you can understand why I don’t like it when you cut in front of me. I am much bigger than you. I really need you to remember that when we are on the road together.
My truck is almost seventy feet long. I can’t make any sharp turns, and I need extra space to go around a corner. Left turns are much easier and I try to plan my city driving with those, but it isn’t always possible. I know you get impatient when I sit at a green traffic light, but I may be waiting to have enough room to make my turn without taking out a pole or running over another car. I always try to avoid starting a maneuver that I cannot safely finish, such as getting through an intersection before the light changes to red. I wish it was easier, believe me, but there is nothing I can do to change the way it must be done.
I have as many as fifteen gears in my truck, and it takes me awhile to go through them. I do wish my truck accelerated as fast as your car does so I could get on a freeway at 60mph instead of 45mph. I sometimes get very tired of having to go slowly up mountains and around curves. I would love to drive faster and I wish there weren’t slower posted limits for trucks in many states. But that’s how it is, and I have good reasons for wanting to obey the rules of gravity and the Law. Please be patient. I’m peddling as fast as I can!
The entire right side of my truck is a blind spot. A lot of the left side is too. And when you tailgate me, I can’t see you. As bad as all that is for me, it’s worse for you. Please don’t pass me on the right unless you are very sure I know you are there; I usually drive in the far right hand lane and I may move in that direction when you are next to me. It also makes me nervous to have you close behind me because I know you can’t see what’s going on in front of me. If something happens that causes me to slow down, you may run into the bumper that hangs off the back. It is called a D.O.T. Bumper, and it is a very solid object. It was designed to prevent cars from sliding under trucks in rear-end collisions, because those drivers were being decapitated. That bumper does NOT give way. Trust me.
I try to pass you carefully and with plenty of clearance. It is perfectly okay for you to flash your headlights to let me know I have room to move back over. I may not always acknowledge it but I do appreciate it, especially at night, in bad weather, and in heavy traffic; sometimes that flash is all I can see. Please only pass me when you know you have plenty of room. We both have to slow down for road construction zones. We both have to merge when lanes end. We both have to give emergency vehicles space. We both should be cautious of stalled motorists on the roadside. Because I’m bigger and wider and heavier, I must be more careful than you. Please give me room to make those changes. Don’t make me choose between your car and the guard rail or the construction worker or the highway patrol officer or the man changing the tire on his motor home.
I spend much of my work day driving in unknown areas. I may have no idea where my customer is, much less which street I need to turn on to get there. If I make a mistake, I might find myself trapped on a cul-de-sac in a residential area where I’m not supposed to take a truck in the first place. At the least, it will be a difficult situation to resolve; at worst I could cause damage to a building or a person as I try to get out. I prefer to drive slowly and get it right the first time. I know YOU know where I need to be but I can’t ask directions, and you honking your horn or gesturing isn’t making it any clearer. I’m not trying to be stupid or in your way. I’m trying to be careful.
I admit I’m not always driving at my best either. I may be tired, hungry, sick, or just wanting to get to my next stop so I can go home to my family. I may be thinking of my kids, worrying about my finances, mourning a loss, regretting the chili I had for lunch, or wondering which off ramp I need to take to get to my destination. I try to pay attention, to not get impatient, to be courteous to others, but sometimes being Human gets in the way. Please try be as aware of me as I am of you.
It will make both our travels easier and safer if you also pay attention to what I am doing. If I slow down, it may be because I can see something up ahead from my higher viewpoint. If our paths are about to cross as you merge onto a freeway, please either decrease or increase your speed so I don’t have to do it. You can slow and accelerate your car much faster than I can my truck. That also applies if I pull out to pass a slower vehicle in my lane; it will slow you down a bit if you let me in your lane, but it can grind my progress to a halt if you don’t. If I am merging left for what appears to be no reason, I may be trying to avoid a traffic jam or emergency vehicle or road construction. If you follow me it will go much smoother; if you try to out-distance me, we will still meet up farther down the road and you will save nothing. Please pay attention to those signs that are directed at truck drivers. Be aware of a reduced truck speed limits, an approaching weigh station, and travel lane restrictions. I must make those adjustments every day. I don’t make the laws, but I am expected to obey them. I’m always trying to be cooperative, and appreciate the same effort from you.
As a truck driver, I make deliveries to your grocery store, restaurant, mall, hospital, car dealership, and every other place you visit in the course of your day. Sometimes I am there when you are trying to conduct your business, and I may be in your way. I apologize. I do not set the times for my arrival, my customer does. Just as you expect good service, so do they from me. You cannot walk into any establishment and find an item used for business that did not spend at least part of its journey on a truck. Please let me do my job so you can do yours.
Truck drivers are vital to the economy of this nation. Without us, all commerce would come to a skidding halt within a week, probably much less than that. We aren’t being boastful because we know it’s the truth. We are proud of the role we have in making our country strong and giving our fellow citizens a good life. Please help us do our best for you.
And speaking of life, please remember I have one too. I spend a lot of time in truck stops because there is plenty of room for me to park. The truck stop offers showers and food and sometimes a few diversions, but after a while I get tired of the same old, same old. It’s a nice change to go to Walmart. Many Walmarts offer truck parking, but it isn’t always easy to thread my way through the lot. Sometimes I want to shop at a mall, or eat at a different restaurant, or go to a movie. I may get in your way, and I’m sorry. I just want a different view, a change of pace. Please take an extra moment of your day to make me feel welcome. I won’t stay too long and I may never be back.
We are out here together, you and I. We can make this work.
A. Truck Driver