We live in central PA, about 10 miles east of the epicenter known as Penn State’s main campus. US 322 is two lane road between the end of the bypass and the Seven Mountains. Curvy and hilly. It also happens to be the main truck route- -to the tune of more than 1,000 trucks per day- -between I-80 and points south and east such as Baltimore & Philly.
The speed limit is still 55, as it should be most of the time. Frequently you get someone who is sleepy or has bad headlights or doesn’t know the road, who feels like the fastest it’s safe to go is 45. So we get conga lines of traffic. And in this era of distracted driving, surprises are frequent. Surprises are rarely good when the surprise is a stopped vehicle in front of you.
I have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). I’ve hauled my share of logs, lumber, chips and pulpwood over the years. I know that four-wheelers aren’t professional drivers. They can be unpredictable, or do stuff that puts them in harm’s way. Several DOT cops have told me they’d guess that of car-truck wrecks, the car is at fault 75-90% of the time. Cars just don’t understand trucks. What do you mean it’s going to take you 1 1/3 football fields to get that thing stopped? I can stop so much quicker than that. Why can’t you?
The other nuts on the road are the reason big-truck drivers have to act like professionals. The other nuts have a lot to do with why there even is such a thing as a CDL. Defensive driving might save someone’s life. It might be yours (as the guy in the big truck); more likely it’s one of my neighbors. Every time I make a left turn, I take my life in my hands.
Truck drivers are people too, subject to the same fallibility as the rest of us. They can be tired or distracted or frustrated. They have places to be. In the era of just-in-time inventory, missing your dock time is not a good thing. Sometimes he dispatcher gives you a recipe and you don’t have the utensils to make the cake, so to speak.
I picked my grandkids up at school this afternoon. It was raining, one of those slate grey road, slate sky, better drive with your headlights on at noon kind of days. I got stuck behind some guy in a little four-wheel U Haul truck. We went 45 out the road. Maybe he didn’t know the road. I doubt he was overweight (common reason to go less than the speed limit). When we got on 322, we had no one behind us. Seven miles later, we had our own conga line.
The locals do their best to accommodate. They just don’t go out on home football Saturdays, at least not until kickoff. Then they come out and run around like sand crabs at low tide, do their chores, and scurry back to their holes. Some make right turns from the shoulder so that other traffic doesn’t have to slow down. Others put their turn signal on way ahead of their left turn to give whoever’s behind them a chance to back off without making their brakes hot (stopping rapidly).
Coming from town, Ciderpress Rd. is a left turn. That’s where the grandkids live. This afternoon I flicked on my turn signal appropriately far ahead of the turn. The four-wheeler immediately behind me whipped by on the shoulder. I watched the mirror nervously as a red semi closed the distance between us without seeming to consider the shoulder as an option. I inched forward. Maybe he needed a little more room to make the move. A few years ago, just over the next hill, a driver failed to make the move. In an 8-ball in the side pocket shot, he hit the right rear of the turning car, sending it directly into the path of an oncoming rig. That wasn’t mine or my granddaughters’ fate today. He laid on the air horn as he eked by on the shoulder, a honked obscenity.
I wasn’t the reason he had to drive 45. Maybe he didn’t know that. I doubt he thought, “Gee. That guy takes his life in his hands every time he makes a left turn.” Maybe if he reads this, he’ll see it from my side.