Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Trucker Courtesy

I am an OTR truck driver.  I have been driving a big truck since 1996.  I was not born in the sleeper of a Peterbuilt nor with a CDL in my pocket.

Everything I know about trucking came from the trucking school at Ogden Community College, one of three trainers I had while I was with Swift Transportation, listening to well seasoned veterans of the industry and just plain experience.  Most of which came from the latter two. 

It didn't take long for me to realize that there were two types of drivers on the road.  Truckers and everyone else.  Truckers had a bond that was held together by the C.B. radio.   Most every Trucker had a C.B. and had it on most of the day.   A driver might be by themselves in a place where they didn't know anyone, but they were never alone. Eight times out of ten that truck in front or behind you had their C.B. on and you had someone to talk to.

One of the first things I learned when I started trucking is trucker courtesy.  These are unwritten rules of the road similar to holding the door for the person behind you or chewing with your mouth closed. If a driver broke one of these unwritten rules they were sure to here about it from another driver on the C.B.

Trucker courtesy had a way of uniting truckers together, separating them from all the rest of the drivers on the road.  It encouraged safety and professionalism.  We were held to a higher standard by other drivers around us. 

Unfortunately trucker courtesy is all but a distant memory.  Only half-heartedly followed by some who still hold on and believe its the right thing to do. 

The following is a list of unwritten rules of the road truckers would to follow for the most part.  There are many different versions and opinions that go along with trucker courtesy.  These are mine.  If you are a trucker and disagree, that's great.  Write an article of your own.  Some of these courtesies are still followed  but not nearly enough.  I am writing this in hopes to rekindle even the smallest percentage of the Trucker Courtesy we once were so proud of.

  • Trucker Wave
Let's start with the trucker wave.  There are many different styles and techniques to perform a trucker wave.  Most of the time its just a forward motion of your thumb and index finger like you're shooting a gun.  Or just an index finger going up. Or not.  The important part is that it is done.  When a driver passes another driver, you wave.  You don't need to even look at the other driver as long as you throw up a hand or finger (not the middle one) in some way to acknowledge the other driver.  Used to be that eight out of ten truckers going the other way on a two lane road would wave.  Now its more like one out of ten. I think probably half the drivers you pass going the same way will wave. Not nearly enough in my opinion.

It has always been my feeling that if you look at a driver on the way by without throwing your hand up or acknowledging them in some way, its the same as flipping them off.  It is better not to look at the driver at all than to look and not wave.  It tells the driver that they did something wrong or in some way offended you.  If another driver passes me, looks over and doesn't wave, it's and insult.  
  • Moving to the left and left lane courtesy
The right lane is the travel lane.  Not the slow lane. The left lane is the passing lane.  Not the fast lane. Amazing how many drivers don't understand that.

Whenever there is an object, like a broke down vehicle or a person, especially cops or emergency crews, on the shoulder of an interstate, move to the lane to the left. Or whenever going by an on ramp with vehicles trying to merge on, yes they have the burden of yielding to the interstate, but for the sake of both safety and courtesy, move to the left if possible. Not doing so is rude and unprofessional.

If a driver is passing and sees that the driver they are passing needs over in order to give the shoulder or merging traffic room, they should either pass with enough time left for the other driver to do so, or back out of it and let them out.  Not doing so is not only rude, but unprofessional. (More on left lane courtesy later.)
  • Flashing
It's always considered good courtesy and all ladies are encouraged to flash a trucker whenever possible.

But for the rest of you truckers, flashing your low beams from on to off and back on again, or from off to low beam and back off again when a truck passing you has safely done so is considered good trucker courtesy.  High beams do NOT play a part in this process.  Using your high beams is rude and unprofessional. Sometimes the invitation is just done verbally over the C.B.   This trucker courtesy is not needed by any means by any driver who carries a CDL.   They are quite capable of passing without being flashed over.  It's simply an invitation by the truck being passed to come back over.  Quite like holding the door for the person behind you when entering a building. If you can't invite the truck back over without using your high beams, use your C.B. or don't bother.  They can handle it. This is good trucker courtesy and if done right, professional.

Just like thanking the person that holds the door for you. When the passing truck is invited back over, it is only polite to thank the driver for the invitation by giving a few blinks with the hazards, pushing down on the trailer lights interrupt button a couple times or by simply thanking the driver over the c.b.  
  • Passing
This is a subject that has much controversy and has caused many arguments.  I believe a big reason for this is because there are so many variables to passing and all must be in favor of the passing truck in order for the maneuver to be safely and promptly executed. 

Let's start with speed limiters or governors on trucks.  Since this is my article I am going to take the liberty at this time to convey my complete disapproval of this device.  It is my opinion that governors on trucks not only cause needless added stress to a driver with an already highly stressful occupation, but they are also dangerous in that in many cases they prevent a driver from passing in a timely manor causing rolling road blocks and condensing traffic to an unsafe level.  In addition some companies set there drivers truck speeds anywhere from five to twenty mph lower than the posted speed limit in some states.  Its just not safe.  It is my opinion that if a company cannot trust me to drive their truck in a safe manor including speed then they should not hire me to begin with.

Some more variables when passing are,  steep grades, how much weight is in the trailer and the power a trucks engine may or may not have.

So where does trucker courtesy play into all this?  First of all a lot of truckers just hate when someone gets in their way.  We have to realize that sometimes crap happens and no one is a perfect driver. Also if you are a ten mile an hour over the speed limit trucker and expect everyone to get out of your way just because you are behind them, then you are probably the same driver that tailgates six inches from the bumper in an attempt to scare the other driver out of your way.  Just for the record.  This is about as unprofessional as you can be as a trucker.  Probably one of the reasons there are so many lane restrictions for truckers going through big cities. And one of the reasons truckers are hated by so many four wheelers.  Ever notice the increasing rules and regulations on the trucking industry are not made by truckers.  They are made by people who drive four wheelers.  

 I don't think there is a OTR trucker out there that hasn't messed up and tried passing that slower truck with lighter load not realizing the six percent grade they are about to climb.  Getting hung out in the left lane is never fun for any driver. Especially on a hill because no one is giving up more than the grade has already taken.  Now we have all the traffic bunching up behind causing what chicken haulers call fuster clucks.  The only rescue for the poor trucker in the left lane would be if a empty truck in the right lane backed out of it instead of passing or if there was a even slower truck in the right lane creating a big enough space so the heavy load can get over.  

I want to talk about something that has been happening a lot the past four or five years that rarely took place when I first started driving not so long ago. That is, being run into a slow moving vehicle by another trucker. It has always been done, but not by other truckers. This was something that almost never happened and now happens three or four times a day.  For those of you that don't know what I'm talking about.  This is when a passing truck prevents the truck they are passing from moving to the left lane before having to slow for the vehicle in front of them. This is something els that is rude and unprofessional.

I'm not talking about a ninety mile an hour super trucker slowing so my sixty five mile an hour truck can get over and pass a sixty four and a half mile an hour truck.  I'm talking normal speed stuff here.  Its always been good trucker courtesy for the passing truck to let the truck they are passing out and around that RV or whatever. Its good left lane courtesy.

Another issue that comes up in the truck stop restaurant concerning passing is all the trucks that are governed and the privately owned trucks they are slowing down. Tens of thousands of trucks on the road today are governed and many times within a mile an hour faster or slower of each other. These drivers generally do all they can to get every mile out of every hour they are allowed.  It stands to reason that they will eventually ease up on a slightly slower truck. When this happens a driver should wait until they have a good long time to pass without holding up the left lane before attempting to pass.  Doing so and holding up traffic for more than a mile is rude and unprofessional. 

By the same token, there is a unexplained phenomenon that occurs on occasion when a truck of slightly faster speed simply stops passing while next to the slower truck.  Now both trucks are running together creating a rolling road block.  This has happened to most every driver who drives a governed truck.  This is where a lot of heated debate lyes.  Good trucker courtesy would be for the slower truck to back off enough to let the truck trying to pass, by.  I do this whenever I see another truck taking to long to pass me. Other truckers would say the passing truck shouldn't have tried to pass to begin with.  Well, maybe so but the passing truck didn't know that the truck would stop passing in the middle of trying to do so. Fact of the matter is, the truck is out there holding up traffic and all they want to do is get passed the slower truck so they can get back over.  Being the slower truck, backing out just a bit to let them do that is the right thing to do. the professional thing to do.

 Some truckers don't care how long it takes to pass another truck and will try to pass even if their truck is gaining by two feet per mile.  This is when I would agree with the other truckers and say back off a tiny bit.  Passing without consideration for the faster vehicles on the road is again, rude and unprofessional.   

  • Using the C.B radio.
Now I run team with my wife.  Have been for the better part of ten years now.  The C.B is usually not on because one of us is trying to sleep.  But when I was solo there was rarely a time when I didn't have the radio on listening to channel nineteen.  This is supposed to be the information channel.  But because of all the riff raff it has been nick named the  Sesame Street channel.  I guess this is because of all the immature talk coming from supposedly grown ups.  This has always been the case as long as I have been trucking, but I hear tell of a time when this type of behavior was rarely heard and chastised severely by other truckers when done.  Channel nineteen is like having a chat room without any moderators.  People say whatever is on their mind without regard to who may be listening on the other end.

Swearing on channel nineteen and lengthy conversations are the biggest problem.  Truckers many times have their wife and or kids with them and lengthy conversations prevent road reports such as accidents, road construction and bear reports.  Moving private conversation to one of many other channels is the right thing to do.

There are many other trucker courtesies that I didn't mention in this article.  Many of which just have to do with being respectful and professional.  I hope that in some way this might bring just a little Trucker Courtesy back to the industry.

Stephen Riser Sr.

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