This is the week I traditionally do three quarters of a lap of America with my bride as we visit my parents in downstate Illinois. It’s about a 4,500 mile driving trip.
I’ll grant that I’m easily irritated by stupid driver tricks performed in front of my vehicle when we’re driving at interstate speeds.
What I was unprepared for this year is such an obvious decline in the quality of those who sport Commercial Drivers Licenses and are in command of 18-wheel tractor-trailer rigs.
As bluntly as I can put this, the trucking industry had better wake up and smell the coffee before our nation’s highways become wall to wall train wrecks.
In the past two days, I have observed at close range the following:
1) A fully loaded 18-wheel rig pulling out to pass another one on a steep up-grade near Flagstaff and failing to make that pass for 11 miles while creating a line of 17 cars behind him.
They teach enough basic physics in high school for that driver to know that trying to speed up and pass another truck on an upgrade takes a massive amount of applied horsepower and if you don’t have it, it won’t magically appear.
2) In heavy fog, an 18-wheel rig driving at least 80-miles an hour (because he was passing me as I was driving 70) with visibility of maybe 400 feet.
They teach high school students never to out-drive your visibility. In other words, don’t drive faster than your ability to stop without hitting what is in front of you. If this clown had to jam on the brakes, he would have taken at least 1/4 of a mile to stop which, the last time I checked was much more road than the 400 feet he could see. (For the record, the four wheel discs on my Excursion would have done the trick.)
3) Eight trucks (again, 18 wheel tractor-trailer rigs) which were clearly on the very thin edge of control.
The thin edge of control is a description of efficient stock car racing, not driving down Interstate 40. At the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, loose is fast. On Interstate 40, a tractor-trailer rig which is out of control is deadly. The fact is that in each of the eight instances, the trucks were going much too fast for their drivers to control them. It was obvious, because a trailer sliding back and forth between lanes is obvious.
4) Two rigs with only one headlight.
What can possibly be the excuse for that?
5) Two trucks obviously driving side by side on purpose to block the road.
How do we know? They exited the highway together. Formation flying is something done by the Thunderbirds, not by two trucks with Top Gun logos. (Really.)
The list could be a lot longer but we got so disgusted we stopped keeping track.
There are a lot of people who we can blame for this state of affairs, but we think that the industry should take the majority of the blame and, secondarily, law enforcement.
The fact is that most of the miscreant drivers we saw were driving vehicles with logos of major firms which leads us to believe that these guys are so desperate for drivers they’ll put almost anybody in charge of enough tonnage to kill a whole lot of people when used with a minimum level of stupidity.
Almost 37 years ago when I got my drivers license, I took great umbrage when an older friend told me that I probably wasn’t a very good driver and wouldn’t be for about 10 years. He explained to me that nothing makes a person into a good driver except mileage and it takes time to accumulate that mileage.
If that’s true for cars—and it is—I can guarantee that it is equally—if not more—the case for vehicles 10 times the size and weight of a car.
You cannot manufacture instant experience. A Commercial Drivers License does not confer the judgment which comes with lots of seat time. If the trucking industry doesn’t want a disaster on its hands of epic proportions, it had better find a way to teach their new drivers enough basic skills that they don’t kill themselves—and the rest of us—before they rack up enough miles to gain the advanced skills which they need for a long career.