I’ve been thinking a lot about truck safety lately. More specifically, I’ve been wondering about how much control the driver has when it comes to having a safe driving record. Is it simply a matter of constant vigilance or does fate have a part in it?
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For those of you who listen to the podcast version, in the last few episodes you’ve heard me hinting about an accident I had recently. Well today is the day I spill the beans.
The accident happened back in February.
It was early afternoon and I was nearly out of driving hours. Since both the DOT and my company tend to frown on log violations, I was hoping to find a spot at the Pilot in Hammond, Louisiana. I pulled into the lot behind and perpendicular to the fuel bays and stopped to check out the situation. There were a couple of trucks backing in and the lot was already jam-packed.
Just then, I saw a driver pulling out of a spot. What luck! The thing is, I would need to back up just a tad to turn left and go through the fuel bays to get lined up for it. Being in a hurry, I glanced in my mirror and started backing up. I heard a quick honk and I jammed on the brakes. Whew! That was close! I started turning left to go through the fuel bays when I saw the driver jump out of his truck and wave me down. Uh oh.
I had only pulled up about 5 feet, so I yanked the brake, and walked back to meet him. Sure enough, I had barely tapped him. When I say barely, I mean barely. Check out the picture so you don’t think I’m exaggerating. That right there folks is $1100 worth of damage, which ironically was how much my safety bonus check was short this year. Grrrr.
I suggested we both park before we take care of the paperwork. For one thing, I didn’t want to lose that spot I had seen and for another we were blocking the fuel bays. Thankfully, he agreed. I got my spot and lucky for him, he was bobtailing so he had no problems finding parking.
We both called our respective companies and swapped information. I said, “I can’t believe I hit you. I didn’t feel a thing and I had barely started backing up.” He said, “Yeah. I was pretty close to your bumper.”
Okay. So who’s fault was this accident?
Clearly it was mine. Despite the situation, I’m pretty sure any insurance company is going to lay the blame on the person who’s backing up. That’s probably accurate about 95% of the time. But what happens if someone were to dart behind you as you’re backing and there’s no way you could’ve seen them? This happens to me all the time when I’m delivering to a customer like Walmart or Lowes. Is it still the backer’s fault? What about if some moron pulls up five feet from your rear bumper? Who’s fault is it then?
Okay. I admit in this scenario it’s still my fault. I checked one mirror, but I did not check both mirrors like I know I’m supposed. I was in a hurry and I let my guard down for an instant. Again, I’m not exaggerating when I say an instant.
After I had pulled in and stopped, it honestly only took me about five seconds before I saw the guy pull out of that spot. Literally… five seconds. I barely had time to stop before I was grabbing for reverse. That means within that five second time frame the other truck must have pulled up within five feet of my bumper and stopped. I’d like to call him an idiot, but how do I know he didn’t have a five-second lapse of attention too?
I’ve learned two lessons about truck safety from this encounter.
One, always leave plenty of space between you and the truck in front of you. Obviously I already knew this, but this was just another really crappy way of reminding me again. This goes for parking lots and stoplights. You never know what the moron in front of you (me in this case) is going to do.
The second lesson I learned is that sometimes bad luck and fate are just going to get you. Here’s the skinny. As many of you know, I have written two blog posts about drivers being complacent when it comes to truck safety. The first was TD97: A Trucker’s Worst Nemesis: Complacency and the second being TD104: Complacency Strikes. For those of you who listen to the podcast, you probably know that I get more feedback from these two blog posts than about anything else.
Truck safety has been on my mind more than it ever has.
Because of these articles, I have been more cautious in almost everything I do. When I’m turning a corner, even if I’m 100% positive I have plenty of room, I always pay close attention to my mirror so I can guarantee my trailer is making it around whatever I’m trying to avoid.
When I’m driving through a busy parking lot, I’m always looking from side-to-side to make sure no one darts out in front of me or some moron car has decided to use the truck stop parking lot as a trial for the Indy 500 (I’m looking at you, Evil Overlord).
For quite a few years now, I think I’ve been better than the average driver when it comes to truck safety. Helping both cars and trucks get onto highways, letting drivers change lanes, waving vehicles out from busy driveways, and slowing down when a slightly faster truck is passing, are just a few of the things I’ve practiced for many years. But I have been even more diligent about this ever since I wrote those two blog posts. I better be. I’ve gotta walk the walk, you know.
Up until February I hadn’t had an accident in ages. Now this. One five-second lapse of attention and I’ve got a backing accident on my record with the CSA points to match. I’m pissed at myself and I’m even more pissed when the other driver calls the cops out about 30 minutes later. At least it wasn’t a lot lizard pounding on my door, I guess.
I’m sure many of you are thinking that I need to just face the fact that I screwed up. I do. I completely admit it. Trust me. When you’re married to The Evil Overlord for 23 years, you get good at admitting you’re wrong about stuff. Largely because you are. Or I am. Wait. Oh for Pete’s sake, you know what I mean. So here’s the question.
Was my accident because of my lack of vigilance or just because it was my time?
I would argue that a driver cannot pay attention 100% of the time. They can try their best, but no one is perfect, right? Ah, you say. But what about the million milers? For you non-truckers out there, million milers are drivers who have driven 1 million miles or more continuously without an accident or incident of any kind. Or are they?
I’m going to go ahead and just admit this. I get distracted while I’m driving.
I am not a freaking robot. I cannot stare at the road for a constant 11 hours (well, actually eight with the stupid 30-minute break) with a brow-furrowing concentration on all things truck safety. Anyone who says they can is either some sort of idiot driving savant or a Pinocchio wanna be.
There are times when your mind just wanders because you’re listening to a good audiobook, your favorite podcast (obviously Trucker Dump), or that wicked riff you just heard Megadeth play. Am I alone here? Don’t leave me hangin’ like a trucker’s 3-piece suit.
Granted, my mind only wanders away from truck safety whenever I’m on the open road. I’m not one of these guys who is listening to music or talking on the phone while he is backing the trailer, trying to maneuver around a tight spot, or barreling down an onramp. Yet a measly five seconds of inattention and here I am.
So how do these million milers stay accident-free?
Are they just super focused on truck safety? Have they practiced some Jedi concentration method that enables them to tap into the Force? How did they drive 1 million miles without a single screw-up? Well in my experience, they didn’t.
Over the years I’ve been able to talk to a handful of million mile drivers. I asked them all the same question; did they really drive 1 million miles without anything bad happening? Not one single driver told me that this is the case. None of them were all they’re cracked up to be.
One of them said he backed into another driver’s mirror at a truck stop. It only caused minor damage so the safety director kept it off his record. That is an accident in my book. Just because it’s not in the books, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a lapse of judgment. Been there, done that.
Another million miler told me he was doing a tight back into a dock when he turned a little too sharply, causing his fairing wing to bend slightly when it hit the trailer. Oops. Again, he was getting close to the 1 million mile mark and the safety director didn’t want to ruin it for him over one tiny mistake. While that was really cool of the safety director, that’s still an accident by truck safety standards.
Yet another “perfect” driver told me that he was going down a residential street towards a shipper when he clipped a low-hanging electrical line. In this particular case, he had to argue with the safety department, but eventually got it overturned because he was following directions that were given him by his company to get to that particular customer. So in other words, he had an accident but still retains his million mile status.
So my question is this: Is there anyone out there who is truly accident-free? Have you never let your guard down for even one second? Or are you just the luckiest trucker on the planet? If you are, I’d love to hear from you about how you accomplished this super-human feat. Email me at TruckerDump@gmail.com.
It seems to me that when it is your time, it’s your time.
You can do everything you can to avoid accidents, but when your number is called you’ve got no choice but to step up to the meat counter and accept your nasty slab of beef liver. I tell a story in my book, Trucking Life: An Entertaining, Yet Informative Guide To Becoming And Being A Truck Driver, about a question that was asked at my truck driving school way back in 1997.
By the way, sorry for the long paragraph. It’s a combination of WordPress limitations and my lack of programming skills. I assure you the book isn’t one long run-on sentence. Anyway, here is an excerpt from Trucking Life:
Knowing the difference between a preventable and a nonpreventable accident can be confusing. In driving school, we were told this scenario and asked if it would be considered preventable or nonpreventable. You give it a try. Pay attention. There may be a quiz afterward. Say you’re coming up on a red traffic light at a busy intersection. Just as you start to slow down, the light changes to green and you proceed. Suddenly, to your left you see a car that isn’t slowing down. You hit the brakes, but it’s too late. The car ran the red light and hit your truck. As for your part, is it preventable or nonpreventable? This is where the Jeopardy music would be playing if it weren’t copyrighted. Be sure to answer in the form of a question. Everyone in my class agreed that since the other guy ran the red light, the truck driver would be cited with a nonpreventable accident. What do you think? If you agreed with us, you’d be wrong. You, the super-trucker, would be charged with a preventable accident. Say what? Yeah, our sentiments exactly. What you’ve got to remember is that when they’re determining whether an accident was preventable or nonpreventable, they’re not trying to determine who’s at fault. They’re simply trying to figure out if the accident could have been avoided. In this case, it was clearly the automobile’s fault because it ran a red light. Certainly, your green light meant that you had the right-of-way, but having a green light isn’t enough. Everyone knows that you’re supposed to check both ways before you enter an intersection. What most drivers don’t think about is that this also applies to traffic lights. Because the trucker didn’t look both ways and entered the intersection when someone was coming, that accident could have (supposedly) been avoided. That’s insane! Yeah, we thought so too. We argued with the instructor about it forever, but lost in the end.
Do you see what I mean? You could be tooling along, minding your own business and making the truck safety gods happy, when all of a sudden something happens that you have no control over. Maybe you’re cruising along a Wyoming highway and a gust of wind blasts you off the road. What are you supposed to do about that?
What about black ice? It’s called that because you can’t freaking see it! Some may argue that you shouldn’t be on the road if conditions are icy. But I bet you there isn’t a single driver reading this who hasn’t been surprised by an icy spot on the road before. And if you haven’t yet… well, good times are coming, my friend. Just you wait. That’ll put a whole new meaning to the term Trucker Dump.
What about if you’re pulling into a truck stop and you stop for five seconds and then some moron stops right behind you and you back into him? Okay, okay. Still a bad example.
So I guess the point is this. All we can do as drivers is try our best.
We can try not to let our phones distract us and we can choose to watch the road instead of looking for attractive seat covers as they drive by. We can try not to drive in bad weather. We can get out and look every single time we back in… multiple times. And we should do all these things.
But ultimately, none of us can control every single thing around us. So in the end we just have to face the fact that when it’s our time for a boo-boo, it’s our time. One thing’s for certain, the safest place you can be right now is five feet behind my truck, cuz there ain’t no way I’m making that mistake again… until I quit concentrating for five seconds again. Ugh. I’m screwed.
*Am I nuts? How much do you think luck plays in your ability to stay accident-free? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Links mentioned in the podcast version:
TD78: A Trucker’s Thanksgiving was my last Thanksgiving-themed podcast. It is also one of my favorite podcast episodes. The snark meter goes off the charts!
I reluctantly discuss the 2016 presidential election and the results. Yeesh. What a mess.
Since the election was so depressing in general, I went over to Singsnap.com and recorded a few songs. Have at it if you want to hear me butcher some perfectly good songs.
I came across another idiot truck driver recently. I tell the story and mention TD66: Trucker’s Go Turtle Racing.
Scalebuster is a new app that tells you if the scales are open. You can also report any surprise inspections you run across.
The new myPilot app has has a couple of cool features but one of them doesn’t always work.
I asked you guys to weigh in on me starting a Facebook page. I share the results and mention Buck from The Trucking Podcast along the way.
I started a new Slack group for Trucker Dump listeners! Request an invite by emailing me at TruckerDump@gmail.com with the subject line: Slack.
Of course, the iTruckers Slack group is still as active as ever too. It’s more for truckers who are Apple enthusiasts. Request an invite by emailing Trucker Bob at iTruckers@iCloud.com. And thanks to Shannon who is @holden657 on Twitter for drawing in a few more members by promoting the iTruckers Slack group on the Today in iOS podcast.
See a photo of the minor damage I caused to another truck.
The Evil Overlord gets another mention. This time it’s because of the way she drives in parking lots.
If you’ve truly never had a driving accident or incident of any kind, I’d love to hear from you. Email me at TruckerDump@gmail.com.
I tell a story from my book, Trucking Life: An Entertaining, Yet Informative Guide To Becoming And Being A Truck Driver, about preventable/nonpreventable accidents. I include an excerpt from the book.
In the feedback section:
Jagdeep Singh asks about starting a trucking career and Chad Case asks whether he should keep driving local or go over-the-road.
You can email your comments, suggestions, questions, or insults to TruckerDump@gmail.com
You can find me on Twitter @ToddMcCann.
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