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Trucker's Journal

I've been a trucker since November, 2004. Before that I was an accountant for many years. I'm having fun and actually making more than I did before. Go figure....

Location: Midwest, United States

Sunday, January 22, 2006



A couple of recent comments (thanks, Frank and Jan!) have prompted me to again type some words of advice to you 4-wheelers. Merging is one of the most dangerous acts on the highway for me as an 18-wheeler since I have so much length to worry about. There are several types of merge including the on-ramp, the disappearing lane, and passing. I'll save passing for later since it's an entire subject in itself.

On-ramps are tough for me no matter if I'm getting on or if I'm already there and you're trying to get on. I will try to merge with the flow of traffic when I'm entering *if* I can, but sometimes it requires cooperation from you also. I'd prefer that you slow slightly to allow me in, or, if there is a lot of space behind you, increase your speed to open a hole behind you. Alas, it doesn't happen often enough for me and I'm forced to slow down to wait for a hole.

Let's digress a moment to talk about power. I have a large diesel engine with over 400 horsepower and you have a smaller engine with 200 hp or so. Yes, some of you have less, some have more, but that's a good average to use. So, you say, I have twice what you have, why is there a problem? Well, let's look at what that power has to do. You have maybe 4,000 pounds to move around. Here again, I'm sure many have less, some have more, but it's a good number to use as an average. If I am pulling an empty trailer I weight a total of about 30,000 pounds, whereas if I'm loaded I can have up to 100,000 pounds (in some states with some special trailers), but the "normal" two-axle trailer combination has a limit of 80,000 pounds in most states. So, to get into some very simple math (don't desert me here, I promise I won't use much!), you have a weight to power ratio of about 4,000/200 or 20 to 1. Mine figures as 80,000/400 or 200 to 1. Doing one final division shows that you have 10 times as much power meaning your acceleration is much better than mine. Surprised? You shouldn't be if you've driven near any semis at all. You know they can be sluggish and you know you can just tap your pedal and outrun me easily.

OK, back to merging. When I'm in the right-hand lane and you're merging with me, I'm going to expect you to accelerate to get past me before your lane runs out if you can do it safely. Please don't make me slow down to let you in! There's not much I see while driving that is more annoying than having you creep up barely in front of me, pull over, and fail to increase your speed to meet or exceed mine when I'm coming up behind you. You have the power to just increase the pressure your right foot puts on that little black pedal and make me happy. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've had to slow down only to see you suddenly realize that you *can* get out ahead of me quickly after I've been forced to slow down and then begin the process of gaining speed again. You might ask, "Why don't you just move over to the next lane to the left for me?" Well, I will do it if I can safely, but you might notice that sometimes that's just not possible. It's so much simpler for you to either get ahead of me quickly or merge behind me and then move over yourself. You can do that easily compared to me since 20 or 30 feet of space opens in that lane much more frequently than the 100-150 feet I require as a minimum.

Back to the question of why I sometimes won't move over even if I can--perhaps I know the next exit is in 3/4 mile and I have to be in the right lane to take it. If I move over and you don't allow me to return to the right lane, then I'm stuck over there and can't get off where I need to. That's a major annoyance that thankfully doesn't happen very often, but it does. It's worst in a city because of heavy traffic, but outside the city if that happens to me, then the next exit where I can re-enter going the other way then exit where I should be may be miles down the road.

I will mentally (or, sometimes even verbally, though you can't hear me) say a word or two if you don't cooperate with me. But the flip side is that if you do slow to allow me to merge with you, I'll almost always thank you by flashing my clearance lights a couple of times or turn on the 4-way flashers for a few seconds. Many truckers do this and you may have wondered what it was about--now you know.

The disappearing lane can occur either on the right or the left, sometimes as a permanent part of the roadway or sometimes in a construction/maintenance zone. You've seen the signs, you know it's coming: "Right lane closed 1 mile ahead." I see it and try to plan moving to the left immediately. That may seem insensitive to you, for me to be going slower than you want in the left lane, but I know how difficult it is and when I see the chance, I take it, even if I'm 2 miles back. I may not get another easy chance. Depending on how heavy the traffic is and how aggressively you try to drive, I may or may not be nice to you in the right lane and let you in ahead of me when the end of your lane finally comes. You saw the sign a mile or two ago and didn't move over, why should I allow you to take advantage of me now? In reality, when you do that and force your way in, you are actually stealing from me. I don't get paid by the hour, but if enough people delay me in that manner, I've lost time which could have been used to drive. I get paid a percentage of the trip pay if I'm loaded, and I get paid nothing if I'm empty. When you delay me that way, you are either causing me to be late for starting another trip or causing me to delay my return home. Think about how much you want to get home or make another dollar today and don't force your way in and make me get home later or miss getting that next trip today and waiting until tomorrow for it.

I've also seen the planned disappearing lane become a cause of my blood pressure going up. "Right lane must turn right" or "Left lane must turn left" sometimes become dangerous when you don't want to turn and merely use the lane to attempt to speed by me and then force in ahead of me. It can be very dangerous only because I'm paying attention to many things at once and you might be in one of my blind spots before you start to pass me to merge and I could hit you inadvertently. I'll let you in on a secret here: if you and I get into a physical confrontation, I may not win, but I almost guarantee that you will lose in a 4-wheeler. Remember that weight I told you about up there? Put your 4,000 pounds against my 80,000 and try to guess which one will be the big loser. Yep, you got it right--it's you, not me.

One other merging situation I've seen is totally incorrect legally, but it happens. If it's rush hour and traffic is extremely heavy and backed up, many times people will move around me in the breakdown lane and then merge back in again. Don't do this! I'm not expecting it at all and I will have some choice words for you. The lady (no, she was no lady, only a female) who did this to me on I-69 South where it merges into I-465 just North of Indianapolis is where she decided that since she had a Mercedes Benz SUV she owned the road and could do this to me. She doesn't have any idea how much I wanted to just let my foot slip off the brake and bump her. She would have been cited by the police rather than me, but I didn't do it. Had I made the other decision, she might have been late to her appointment, chipped one of her lacquered nails, or spilled her Starbucks latte on her Donna Karan pants. Oh, the pity if that had happened! Here's another tip to everyone, no matter how many wheels you have: if you have to be there at 830am and it takes you 15 minutes to drive, don't leave at 820am and hope to speed and cut off others to gain a second or two.

To finish, you are perhaps thinking that I'm asking for the best of both worlds: that you allow me to merge with you and that you actively avoid me to merge. Yes, that's right, I'm asking for a kindness from you. If you've never done it, you don't realize how difficult 18-wheeling can be and how simple 4-wheeling is on a comparative basis. As I expressed in a previous post, I've got that firmly embedded in my brain now and if I never drive a big-rig again, I'll have the utmost courtesy to them when I'm in a smaller vehicle.

As always, compliments, comments, and complaints are welcomed. You have two options: there is a "comment" link at the end, or you can send me an email directly using longhaul48statetrucker@yahoo.com in your email client program. Thanks for reading my rants and raves!