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Truckers in the crosshairs: Avoiding danger on the road Aaron Marsh/American Trucker

Truckers in the crosshairs: Avoiding danger on the road

A lack of awareness or consideration for trucks on the part of passenger car drivers would surprise few truckers, but a spate of reports of gunfire recently directed toward heavy trucks is a reminder that there's much more serious misbehavior out on America's roadways.

It's just a sampling from the last several weeks, and news like this is, unfortunately, not hard to find and appears around the country. Besides the alarming level of escalation — as in bullets fired — what's notable is the multiple causes that seem to draw it to truck drivers. There's ever-prevalent road rage, perhaps more expected, but also truckers shot at possibly because of the particular job they do or even completely randomly.

Several recent incidents involving alleged gunfire directed at trucks:

Police in Amarillo, TX are investigating a reported road rage-type situation between drivers of a heavy truck and Chevrolet Corvette late on Sunday, Aug. 7. Whatever caused the altercation, police were called to a Petro truck stop, according to News Channel 10, and found "damage to the side and rear of the Corvette and multiple bullet holes in the cab of the semi."

In Memphis, TN, a truck driver claims that a man in a Dodge Charger followed and cut him off several times over the course of about 3 mi. a little after midnight on Monday, Aug. 8 and fired shots at his Freightliner, Fox 6 News reports. The truck driver, who didn't want his name used, told the news station the incident occurred after he'd moved over a bit from his lane to give some berth to another truck that had broken down at the side of the road. The Freightliner driver called 911, according to Fox 6 News, and police arrested the man driving the Charger after finding "two spent shell casings on the passenger seat and a gun in the glove box."

Tow truck drivers also are frequent targets. One believes his side vent window was shot out in St. Louis, Fox 2 News reports, while he was driving on Interstate-70 Monday morning, Aug. 8 around 10:45 a.m.; it was an overcast, cloudy day. Since no bullet was found, police are treating the incident as property damage, according to the news station, and driver Ed Clark said some glass hit his arm but he's "okay."

A bullet struck the driver's side of a tractor trailer parked at an Interstate-95 service area in Milford, CT in the wee hours of Friday morning, July 22, reports the Connecticut Post. The 31-year-old driver was inside the truck but wasn't hit. According to the Post, video surveillance footage showed a possible suspect: "a shirtless, heavyset white man wearing jeans and tan work boots" had pulled up before the shot was fired in a Ford pickup with a female passenger. The two then sped off in the Ford "at a high rate of speed."

Tempers flaring on the road

With frequent highway traffic backups and a society where attention span and patience both seem to be dwindling while stress is ever on the rise, it's also not surprising that study after study has found road rage and other dangerous behaviors increasingly common. That's putting it mildly: insurer Plymouth Rock Assurance found in a study published in late 2014 that nearly all — 99% — of New Jersey drivers say they've witnessed at least one road rage incident.

AAA Foundation's annual Traffic Safety study, meanwhile, finds that eight out of 10 drivers rank aggressive driving as a serious or extremely serious risk. Besides road rage, there are things like racing, tailgating, failing to obey signs and traffic regulations, and seeking confrontations with other drivers, AAA points out.

With tension growing on the road — and a clear division between the passenger car and heavy truck populations — it's not worth eating lead. Here's some advice from Plymouth Rock and AAA Foundation for avoiding escalations of violence:

Check your pride at the driver's door. If some reckless or oblivious driver cuts you off, shrug it off, stay safe and do your best to let it go. It's not worth it to retaliate and likely make things worse, possibly risking your life and damage to your truck and livelihood.  

"Be my guest." If someone is extreme tailgating, weaving sharply and cutting in and out of lanes or otherwise pushing dangerous boundaries, get over and let them get on by, and good riddance.

Stay calm. Other drivers on the road may get hot under the collar and start getting aggressive, and you can't control that. But you can take a deep breath, rise above it and be the bigger (and still living) person who gets home safe that day.

Avoid eye contact. Once you look into that other driver's eyes, it's personal, Plymouth Rock points out — and if it was heading for conflict, it's on. Do your best to keep your eyes on the road ahead.

Don't yell and make gestures. Same as above; engaging other drivers only makes things personal and increases the chance it'll become a confrontation. It's only natural to holler back at some hothead driver and throw in a fist shake or obscene gesture of some kind, but it's not going to help the situation. Them's fightin' words, and you don't know what might be in that glove box... and 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock are the best place for those hands.

Don't tailgate. Just like you don't want someone on your rear far too close or shaving off your front grille when they pull in front of you, neither does anyone else. This is obviously trickier for truckers, since they've usually got a lot more forward-aft real estate to manage than the passenger car bees swarming around.

Don't become a speed bump in the passing lane. Let's pretend for a minute that drivers today actually understand and observe "drive right, pass left" proper roadway protocol and possess good driving skills. Trucks often have a problem with this one, since again, they're longer/ heavier and it's much harder to pass at all, and they tend to run out of steam if it's a longer uphill grade. You may pull out into that slightly-too-narrow passing lane window only to have some speeding driver you didn't see run up behind you and then feel you've cut him or her off.

Be careful of this one, especially if there are lots of trucks around and you're likely to block up all the lanes if you make your move. Try to wait for a better chance to pass, if you can, and stick to proper rules of the road (even if others aren't).



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