Nathan Wick logs thousands of miles a year driving a semitrailer truck for UPS Freight. The hours are long and demanding, but the most stressful part of his job is the driving behavior of other motorists.
Wick says motorists have lost respect for big rigs, and as a result put themselves and his fellow truck drivers at risk. The Drive recently went for a ride with the 2012 Minnesota Trucking Association’s Driver of the Year and it didn’t take long to see why he feels that way.
On our short trip on Interstate 35W from Blaine to Forest Lake in blinding rain, drivers changing lanes failed to give ample clearance when pulling in front of Wick. Others tailgated or drove in his blind spot for extended periods. A few got too close for comfort, all behaviors rife with dangers.
“There are people who are uncourteous around trucks,” he said. “They will just cut you off. Courtesy is good for big trucks and small cars. When it’s David vs. Goliath, Goliath is going to win. But really, nobody wins.”
In 2012, there were 3,789 crashes involving trucks in Minnesota causing 56 deaths and 1,178 injuries, according to the Department of Public Safety. The top five reasons for crashes: driver inattention or distraction, improper or unsafe lane use, failure to yield right of way, following too close and unsafe speed.
Last Wednesday during the morning rush hour, a motorist clipped a semitrailer truck while merging onto Hwy. 169 from Bass Lake Road in New Hope and rolled, injuring the occupants.
“Unfortunately that’s all too common,” Wick said, adding that he had never been in a crash. “A person waits until the bottom of the ramp to notice what is happening.”
When approaching an on-ramp, “I have to anticipate that there could be a problem, that people won’t look. I have to be ready that somebody might do something silly, like zip across the lane to exit.”
Sharing the road
This May, Wick and others from America’s Road Team have conducted seminars on how to share the road with trucks. Participants get to sit in his cab and get a feel for how a truck driver sees the road, and how difficult it can be to see and react to other vehicles. “A lot of people don’t know how a truck reacts,” Wick said.
A common misperception is that motorists believe they can easily slip into the space a slow-rolling truck leaves between them and the next vehicle. That’s a recipe for disaster, said Jeff Halford, who drives locally for Con-Way Freight.
“That is meant for a safety buffer for everybody,” the 23-year veteran said, noting trucks need that space to stop or to maneuver around stalled vehicles or obstacles blocking the road. If the truck is rear-ended, the buffer lessens the chance of the truck hitting the vehicle in front.
“They think that because there is one or two more tires, they [trucks] can stop quicker. They don’t realize that [the truck] has 60,000 pounds of concrete to deliver to Home Depot. Trucks can’t stop on a dime.”
Wick said motorists and bicyclists who follow too close from behind or squeeze between a turning truck and the curb reduce the field of vision and reaction time for a motorist and cause them to vanish from a truck driver’s sight.
“Assume that we don’t know that you are there,” he said. “If a Ford F-150 can get lost in a blind spot, imagine what a person on a Schwinn will do.”
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