As professional drivers, our lives can change in an instant

by Al Goodhall

Last month in this column I posed the question: Is this trucking lifestyle really for me? I know that it is and have come to understand that the daily grind, the amount of time on the job, and the repetition can drag a driver down from time to time. That can allow a sense of complacency to creep in. Complacency, being unaware of potential dangers in our daily lives, is an unhealthy state of mind for a driver to be in. Being self-satisfied with the state of affairs in our lives can lull us into forgetting how impermanent the foundations we build our lives on truly are. I was reminded of this through a couple of recent events.

One of the best pieces of advice that I have heard given about driving for a living was this: If you come to the day when you think that you have seen it all, well, then it is time to hang up the keys. That is probably the shortest and most poignant argument that can be made for practicing defensive driving techniques. It was through an interaction on one of my social media feeds that I was reminded of that advice.

In that conversation a seasoned driver, with a depth of experience in challenging conditions, had done everything he had to do to get his rig stopped in order not to cause harm to anyone else. Yes, he said he banged up his equipment a little in doing so, but it was a snowy night on a steep mountain grade.

What he couldn’t count on was the rig coming down the grade behind him, just smoking along. It took him out, banging him up inside his cab.

Over a year after the fact he still suffers from frequent headaches. Physically he is capable of driving again and has passed his driver’s physical, allowing him to do so. But his head is still not in it. He has issues with traffic and needs an empty road to be totally comfortable. He’d love to be back to trucking for a living but he’s not ready for it yet and he’s working on it.

Kudos to this driver and his attitude. He certainly wasn’t complacent or derelict in his responsibility as a professional driver that night, yet the foundations of his life were shaken by the actions of those around him. His life changed in an instant. He said in his conversation with me, “Just maybe if more drivers were better informed that night, my truck would not have been so torn up.”

You can spend your life on the road out here and retire without ever being involved in a collision that affects your life in such a way. But I believe every driver that has been on the road for any length of time has experienced his or her fair share of close calls and can relate a story of someone they know or have known that has been involved in a collision of some sort.

The potential for harm is always present.

On arrival home a few days after the above conversation took place, I ended up spending 12 hours in the emergency ward with my wife. Dealing with 12 hours of scans, tests and pain management hits you in a spot you don’t often go to.

When the health of the most important person in your life hangs in limbo, you recognize just how fragile the framework of your life is. Just like the fact we can’t control the actions of the people around us, neither can we control the effects of aging and illness. Effects that, in an instant, can change how you live your life and how you view the world in which you live.

So I come back to the same point I closed last month’s column with: the importance of living your life in the present moment. Doing so prevents us from sliding into that complacent state of mind and keeps us focused on the task at hand, eliminating or at least dramatically reducing the potential for causing harm to ourselves or others through our actions as professional drivers.

For the situations that arise unlooked for, which change the fabric or our lives, what option do we have but to accept the changes and deal with them the best we can? Whether it be the behaviour of other drivers on the road or the inevitable changes that occur in our personal lives, life goes on, as they say.

Thinking and writing about these experiences over the past couple of weeks has illuminated just how quickly life can change both for the better or worse and how important it is to be present to enjoy the good times and cope with the bad while supporting others in a time of need.

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