BY CHARLES ABRAMOVICI, SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE MAY 22, 2014
Source: The Gazette
I never understood, nor would have believed, just how dangerous trucks are until I started driving one for a living
MONTREAL — Dear pedestrians, cyclists and motorists:
We need to talk.
During my 10-year career as a long-haul trucker, and now as a city driver who navigates a 53-foot tractor-trailer in and around Montreal, on a daily basis I witness people who unwittingly endanger their lives around big trucks.
I never understood, nor would have believed, just how dangerous trucks are until I drove one.
That’s why in the wake of recent truck-related deaths in Montreal, I would like to instil that sense of danger by putting you in the truck driver’s seat and explain how I almost killed a cyclist in Cambridge, Ont., on a long-haul run several years ago.
I beg you to hear me out.
It may save your life.
It was a clear, dry day on June 27, 2008 when I was delivering a load to Cambridge.
I was working for a company that had won numerous industry safety awards. My truck was new and had the latest safety equipment. I passed all the company’s safety courses, including sessions on a full-size truck simulator, and achieved a 125,000-mile safe-driving milestone.
Here’s what happened, retold in present tense:
At about 9 a.m. on Franklin Blvd., one block from my destination, I line up my rig to turn right on Sheldon Drive, a two-lane road with a centre median. As a general rule, you need a combination of four lanes to make a right turn with a 53-foot trailer without hopping the curb, where pedestrians or cyclists might be waiting.
I half block the right lane with the end of my trailer and position the cab in the centre lane with my flasher blinking to the right.
A right-hand turn is more dangerous because I am blind on my large passenger-side mirror once my cab is articulated, for several of the seven to 10 seconds it takes to make the turn. I do have a distorted view from two convex mirrors, one on the fender and one below my large mirror. I must also keep an eye on the left front not to hit an oncoming car, or in this case the median. I also have to worry about cars trying to squeeze into the right lane as I make the turn.
A left-hand turn is much safer because I have near perfect visibility throughout.
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It’s a clear day and the sun is not blinding me or my mirrors, which are sparkling clean. I am scanning the traffic lights, the right-side mirror and the truck-legal street I am going to turn on. I am well rested and ahead of schedule.
The light turns green and the turn is going smoothly, and I am confident my rear axles, with more than 30,000 pounds of weight, will clear that curb.
Halfway through my curve, when I see the sidewalk again with my big right mirror, I see a red and white blur that quickly auto-focuses into a kid sliding on the ground on his bike heading for the middle of my trailer in the middle of my turn. I slam the brakes.
Blocking the intersection, I get out of my seat to look out the passenger-side window. The teenage cyclist is slowly getting off the ground, one of the happiest moments of my trucking career. I pull the truck over.
“My fault, my fault,” the cyclist says as I ask, “Are you OK? Are you OK?”
I brush him off and keep muttering about his health as he explains that he saw my flasher blinking to the right, but when he saw the rear of the trailer swing left he figured I was going straight. The traffic light was green and he wanted to squeeze through.
Ecstatic he was alive, I marvelled to myself at his physical fitness, how he took the incident so well, how refreshingly honest he was, how good-natured he was. I thought about his parents, his friends, his future, all good in my books.
During my gleeful state, I said something stupid that I deeply regret. “That was some good driving,” I said.
It was true. His quick-thinking and youthful reflexes saved his life, but a poor split-second judgment and lack of knowledge about trucks almost got him killed.
Most shocking to me was that the near-tragedy happened under the best circumstances, something increasingly rare in trucking. I could have easily arrived harried after a rainy 11-hour drive, fighting traffic and a tight schedule, getting lost trying to find truck-legal roads in an older truck with dirty windows and mirrors, while working for a trucking company with a poor safety record.
Scarier is that both the cyclist and myself had a green light. Neither did anything wrong. He simply did not understand that I was turning too slowly, and he was riding too fast for me to see him. When I started the turn, he just wasn’t there.
And that’s what you all need to understand.
Always assume a truck driver can’t see you unless you make eye contact directly or through the mirrors. If you can’t see the driver’s eyes, he or she can’t see you. It’s that simple.
Keep as far away as possible (I promise the same), and we’ll get along just fine and safely, thank you.
A truck driver’s advice to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists:
- Always make eye contact with the driver, and you’ll never be killed by a truck.
- Stand back from the curb when a truck is turning right. The driver’s visibility is skewed by convex mirrors, and sometimes he or she can only make the turn by hopping the sidewalk.
- Be patient with a truck backing up. This is one of the most dangerous manoeuvres, as the driver is blinded for several seconds to the opposite side. Most dangerous is when the truck cab is articulated to the right, called a blindside backup. The driver momentarily loses sight of the rear for several seconds until he or she begins to straighten out.
- Be wary of trucks turning right. This is an especially dangerous situation on St-Urbain St., which has a bike path but is one of the few truck-legal north-south routes in Montreal. To safely make a right-hand turn onto Sherbrooke St., I usually have to block the intersection, articulate my truck slightly right so I can see the oncoming speeding cyclists in my large right mirror, wait for a red light so I’m sure the cyclists are stopped, and then make the turn.
Charles Abramovici is a long-haul trucker and freelance writer. He lives in Montreal.