Summer should be a time of rest and relaxation. The days of black ice and white-outs are behind us, after all. Circle checks can even be completed without chipping away at chunks of ice and snow.
But every experienced trucker will recognize that another form of highway hazard emerges with the warm weather – and it comes in the form of the family road trip.
Every route is now shared by vacation-bound travellers who are trying to reach cottages, campgrounds or theme parks in record time. Four-wheelers who should be focusing on the road around them may be splitting their attention between a map and the surrounding traffic, or distracted by kids who have been cooped up for hours on end. (Jimmy, leave your sister alone! Don’t make me stop this car!)
One of the biggest challenges of all can emerge when someone also takes the wheel of a different class of vehicle for the very first time. Motorists who normally pilot something no bigger than a Toyota Yaris can sign on the dotted line at a rental yard and receive the keys to a 27-foot motor home.
They are bound to experience some frustrating moments when trying to climb a long grade, and those frustrations will likely be shared by any of the truckers who are stuck behind them.
The summertime motorists may be sacrificing their visibility as well. Everyone has seen rear windows that have been piled high with luggage, pillows and pets.
To compound matters, the drivers who traditionally rely on shoulder checks may not understand the limitations of rearview mirrors. Reflective surfaces may be stamped with a warning that “objects may be closer than they appear,” but this has hardly eliminated the erratic lane changes that can occur.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the condition of recreational vehicles can present yet another danger on the nation’s highways.
The motorists who pull a family trailer just a few times a year may be giving little thought to the maintenance needs of these homes on wheels.
Signal light connectors can corrode away, offering surrounding drivers little in the way of warnings about intended lane changes. Anything that is loose could become a projectile once the trailer hits a massive pothole.
Trailers have even been known to break free and roll into the middle of a lane because safety chains have not been attached.
Do you think that’s scary? How many times have we heard people boast about travelling from Ontario to Florida without stopping to sleep?
Professional drivers need to maintain log books, but fatigue management strategies may represent a foreign concept to those at the wheel of a family car.
Truck drivers may not be able to control the actions of vehicles that share the road, but there are steps that will help to minimize any threats.
It is all about having a positive attitude and embracing the defensive driving techniques that support a relaxing experience during every season of the year. After all, a slow-moving RV or an erratic lane change will always become less of a challenge when drivers maintain an appropriate cushion of space around their trucks.
By preserving an eight-second following distance, commercial drivers can maintain momentum and conserve the fuel that would otherwise be wasted in their repeated efforts to rebuild lost speed.
And while vacation-bound four-wheelers may cut into this cushion of space, they will quickly give it back as they zip from one lane to the next.
Equally, truck drivers should be aware of the impact that their actions can have on seasonal vehicles such as trailers and motorcycles. The simple act of passing these vehicles can create a lot of turbulence.
It is difficult to tell how they will react in the face of this type of challenge.
A steady amount of speed and a wide berth will help to minimize the threats.
Dispatchers can further limit the risks by altering schedules to help trucks avoid the heaviest holiday traffic. They should also share any information about the location of trailer parks or other locations where RVs can be expected to merge on and off the highway.
They are simple steps but they can have a real impact on the hectic surroundings, and that will give truckers the chance to experience everything a relaxing summer drive has to offer.
– This month’s expert is Dave Roth. Dave is the Ontario regional manager of safety and training services for Markel Insurance Company of Canada and has more than 20 years experience in managing safety and operations in the trucking industry. Send your questions, feedback and comments about this column firstname.lastname@example.org.Markel Safety and Training Services, a division of Markel Insurance Company of Canada, offers specialized courses, seminars and consulting to fleet owners, safety managers, trainers and drivers.
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