Regulations eroding freedom of the job

by Al Goodhall

“I moved here to be with the love of my life. I hope he realizes on nights like this when I drive home from work, I risk my life to live with him!”

That was a comment made by one of my friends after a harrowing winter drive from London to her home in Tillsonburg.

It made me realize that what I consider fun and challenging is to most people an experience they would rather do without. When it comes to winter driving, the majority of people are white-knuckling it out there, and it shows.

My driving experiences over this past holiday season reinforced my belief that the greatest hazard we face on the road as professional drivers, is in fact, other drivers. You can manage the curves that Mother Nature throws at you pretty well, but managing the actions of other drivers is a different story.

By far the majority of “accidents” I saw over the course of the 2013 holiday break involved a single vehicle. The majority of people had simply run off the road and the bulk of those events resulted in a simple winch back on to the road accompanied by a bruised ego. It wasn’t difficult to pick out the higher speed events: rollovers and vehicles that had ridden the guard rail or retaining wall for extended distances.

I’ve found that the best practice for staying safe in the winter months is to simply stay as far away from other drivers as you can, or at least give it your best shot. If there is a pack of vehicles travelling together, bumper to bumper during poor weather events, I don’t want to be near them. I know that’s easier said than done when faced with some of the busiest travel days of the year.

When I do have to travel close to others, I try to bear in mind that most folks behind the wheel of passenger vehicles (some commercial vehicles too, let’s not forget) are pretty nervous on snow and ice. Patience. Patience. Patience. That’s the key. Although I admit my patience wears pretty thin at times.

That leaves a minority group of drivers that usually make driving truly miserable for the rest of us. You know, the ones that may be sliding into you from behind, or spinning out in front of you, or bouncing off a wall or guardrail and ending up underneath you. They exude overconfidence and a general disregard for safety. If you are practicing patience you would call this group of drivers a challenge.

My friend’s comment also spoke to the value we place on different classes of work. When I tell someone that I drive for a living, it can sound like a pretty cushy job, or at least pretty simple and straightforward. It’s not often a person views a professional driver’s job through the anxiety they have experienced driving in crappy weather. When the average person recognizes that driving may put their life at risk, it says a lot about what we expose ourselves to every day as professional drivers. In fact, it’s easy for us to forget about that and become complacent as we tackle the daily grind.

When I get out in the nasty weather it gives me a true appreciation of how much I enjoy my work. In a funny sort of way, coping with the risks we face on the road every day is where I find the greatest joy in the job. After all, that’s where true freedom lies isn’t it? Having the ability to choose your own path down the road.

The comment my friend made about the stress of her commute got me thinking about a lot of different anxieties we face as drivers. But my mind always comes back to the issues we face surrounding our freedom of choice and the effect that has on our personal safety and that of the travelling public. Road safety is about the driver behind the wheel making the right choices. Those choices extend beyond the decisions we make when we are behind the wheel. Over the course of the last few decades, professional drivers have found their hands increasingly tied when it comes to how they manage their time, when they should drive, and when they should rest.

The freedom of the open road is the greatest attraction the trucking industry has to offer when it comes to recruiting and retaining people with the right skill set and personality traits to get the job done in the best and worst of conditions. That freedom continues to be eroded through hours-of-service legislation, consolidation of the industry through mergers and acquisitions, and technology implemented to control actions of drivers rather than complement their skills.

My friend reminded me we put our lives on the line every day in our profession. Our safety is dependent on our freedom to choose. Is that something we have given up on?

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  • The freedom of the open road is still there and so is the freedom to choose. I chose not to run state side until further notice. This industry is evolving and in my situation , I welcome the new technology that gets me to my destination- first time or the connectivity that allows me or dispatch to correct errors before 300 Kms is lost. Regardless of what HOS guide your day, its never been so easy to predict the next 12-24 hours and communicate it appropriately to the prospective parties. E- logs give me the freedom to run legal. To not have to compete with drivers who curry favor by cheating or are simply just workaholics .To date, I’ve walked away from many companies for forcing me to read between the lines so I can’t remember the last time I risked my life to do this job– at least not running east of the Mississippi river.
    Change is inevitable and so are the growing pains that go along with it . I believe this industry is being forged into a much more professional model. One that can sustain you and your health for 4-5 decades and not spit you out into an early grave.
    Remember the good ole days of no cell- phone, no GPS, sleeping in day cabs, and bad food. When no body cared about you.