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How the modern truck is killing driver camaraderie

Last issue, I wrote about my love for the classic-style truck, but my affection for them goes far deeper than just looks. I believe that as trucks have changed over the years, they have changed us as drivers too, and not for the better.


Last issue, I wrote about my love for the classic-style truck, but my affection for them goes far deeper than just looks. I believe that as trucks have changed over the years, they have changed us as drivers too, and not for the better.

As I touched upon briefly last month, I spent the first 20 years of my career driving around in Europe and beyond.

As a Brit, I was always in a foreign country so it was standard practice to give a wave to any British truck I saw on the road. It was also standard practice – in Europe at least – to stop and offer help to other Brits if they had problems. Further afield, you would stop and help anyone at the side of the road.

Most of the time the drivers you stopped to help were familiar faces. Maybe I’d shipped out on a ferry with them, or spent a day with them at a border or clearing Customs.

Maybe it was over a beer or two at the end of a hard day’s work, whatever the case we all knew each other.

From what I hear, the same applied on this side of the Atlantic. There was camaraderie between drivers, but it seems to have disappeared now and for that I blame the modern truck. Firstly, they don’t break down as much, so you don’t need to pull over to help people out.

But that’s a good thing. Meeting other drivers and striking up friendships is very nice, but I’d much rather not do it on the shoulder of the Trans-Canada at 30 below with a dead truck. So although it removes a certain element of the days of old, I’d take reliability every time.

It’s the rest of the modern trucks that spoil what we once had. Years ago a long-haul truck was a small day cab with a sleeper box attached to the back. To get into the bunk, you had to climb through a small hatch and once you’d managed that, all there was to do in there was sleep. Now we have enormous sleeper compartments with couches, tables and chairs, TVs, DVD players, electronic games consoles, computers with Internet access, microwaves, fridges – all the comforts of home.

Now when we park for the night there is no need to leave the cab at all except to take a shower and use the restroom. Some don’t even need to do that, so the truck stops are almost empty. There may be a few drivers having supper, but they’re all sitting on their own.

Back in the good old days, when you parked the truck for the night you used to get out and go into the truck stop. You had no choice really, as everyone else was in the same predicament. The truck stops were full, so you had to share a table and you made friends.

The next time you saw your dinner companion out on the road, you would have a chat over the CB radio, you’d learn where Smokey Bear was hiding, whether there were any hold-ups, what the weather was doing and generally passed the time of day. Now that has all stopped, nobody knows anybody anymore.

You can run from the Pacific to the Atlantic and the CB will not make a sound. You see a truck on the shoulder and instead of stopping to help, you move over into the left lane and blow past.

Now I know trucks have become more complicated and very few people carry tools anymore, let alone spare parts, but the poor driver stuck on the shoulder may have run out of smokes, he may be thirsty or hungry and be grateful for a can of soda, a candy bar or a bag of chips.

One other important thing that we don’t do anymore is learn. While we’re spending the evening sitting in our huge sleeper, we’re not talking to drivers and we don’t pick up useful tips anymore.

Most of what I’ve learned over the last few decades has been handed down to me by my fellow drivers and because I’ve got nobody to talk to in the truck stop, that knowledge doesn’t get passed along anymore.

Us drivers who have been around the block a few times have earned and inherited this knowledge and we have a duty to pass it on to the new guys.

But we won’t if we spend our off-duty hours sitting in a sleeper with the curtains closed and the new guys, because they don’t know any better, will mess the job up.

The guys back in the office will then have meetings and come up with a set of instructions on how to do the job and we lose the best thing that this job has to offer: our freedom.

We become robots who have to do everything the way we’re told it has to be done. If that’s progress, you can keep it.


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