Truckers have choice words about jackknife cause

February 15, 2010|By Michael Dresser Getting there

Last week's column in which I nominated tractor-trailer drivers who let their rigs jackknife on Maryland highways as Public Enemy No. 1 certainly caught the attention of truckers far and wide.

I never knew there were so many synonyms for "idiot."

Many of the e-mails that poured in questioned my qualifications to opine on the subject of truck-driving or demanded an apology for daring to criticize truckers whose incompetence leads to crashes that choke the state's most critical roadways at the worst possible times.

There will be no apologies this week.

If you are a capable, responsible trucker who drives at a speed appropriate for conditions and has never jackknifed a tractor-trailer, last week's column wasn't about you. You are a true professional and deserve our respect.

That means it wasn't directed at Garrett F., who didn't sign his last name to his e-mail. Garrett wrote that he's been driving a truck for 10 years and hasn't had a ticket or an accident - a commendable achievement.

Nevertheless, the gentleman was highly offended that someone outside the fraternity would criticize his less-capable colleagues.

"This article just goes to show your own ignorance and complete lack of knowledge about anything that has to do with the trucking industry. Have many times have you drove a commercial vehicle? How many times have you drove a commercial vehicle in snow and ice? How many times have you even been in a commercial vehicle? I would be more than willing to bet the answer is "no" to all three."

Correct. I've never driven a big rig and have no particular interest in doing so.

Neither could I throw a curveball to save my life. But I've watched the Orioles long enough to know what happens when one hangs up over the plate, and I possess all the qualifications it takes to yell for the managers to get the bum out of there if a pitcher repeatedly serves up gopher balls to the Yankees lineup. Were baseball the subject of my column, I'd put it in print that Pitcher A could use more time in the minors.

On the road, I'm a fan of good driving. But I've seen a lot of terrible trucking from the vantage point of a small car being tailgated by a tractor-trailer or being passed at warp speed by an 18-wheeler on a snowy interstate.

Several correspondents tried to shift the blame for jackknife crashes to the drivers of what truckers call "four-wheelers."

Holly the Hedgehog, a trucker's wife, wrote that "jack-knifing doesn't mean the truck was going too fast for conditions, contrary to what the State Police claim. Usually it means some moron in a car failed to properly share the road, passed the truck because they didn't want to be stuck behind it and then cut it off, leaving the truck no room to stop."

That is no doubt true sometimes. There is no dearth of passenger vehicle drivers on the road with a common-sense deficit. But if a trucker's going to drive a big rig, we should expect him or her to anticipate idiocy and to drive at a speed that doesn't require the hard-braking that leads to jackknifing.

A truck driver named Charlie Craft didn't exactly love the column, but he made some excellent points that drivers of smaller vehicles should heed.

"We need room. We need lots of room to safely maneuver these rigs. You are right in saying that when we have an accident, it's a big deal. That's because it's a big, long, heavy truck. We deserve far more respect than we are given on the road. Even if the driver of the big truck is an idiot, respect the truck that he drives even if you don't respect the driver," Craft wrote.

You bet, Charlie. And if the opportunity ever arises, I'd be pleased to join you in the cab and, as you put it, "see it from my eyes." Maybe next snowstorm?

Greg Myers of Jackson, Mich., who found the column "one-sided" but agreed with some of it, said he's racked up a million miles of safe driving since 1992.

"Some is luck, some is skill, and some is the knowledge of what it means to others if I make a careless mistake while behind the wheel of this 80,000 pound truck," he wrote.

Myers said members of the industry who care about its public image are taking steps to out the "bad actors" in the business - taking pictures of them when they behave boorishly and using the Internet "to highlight the achievements of our less than desirable 'co-workers.' " He'd like to see the industry "weed out the steering wheel holders from the true professionals."

That's a day all people who use the road responsibly - four-wheeler drivers and the vast majority of truckers - can look forward to.

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