Dashboard Confidential – December 2019

A Christmas gift from Dave

December 2019/January 2020

Dave Sweetman

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Getting closer to the Christmas holidays, I often find myself being the benevolent giver of gifts. Just the other day I gave a complete stranger a gift that she didn’t ask for and likely never knew she received. I gave her the gift of life and the ability to make the journey home.

Making my way across Pennsylvania on old U.S. Highway 322, about 50 miles west of Harrisburg, I entered another one of those pesky construction zones that we all love to hate. There were concrete Jersey barriers on both sides with no room for error, potholes that were eroded down to the rebar, and it just seemed to go on forever.

My personal rule No. 1: no tailgating. Keep your distance. Rule No. 2: expect the unexpected.

Loaded heavy, I was following rule No. 1. That also allowed the healthy distance between my truck and the car in front of me to be an open invitation for the string of on-ramp traffic to jump out in front of me. Sure enough, two cars jumped out, and I made room and slowed down more. One more car, driven by a well-dressed, business-type lady in a new Volvo, squeezed her way out at the last second, with inches to spare and cut me off. I saw it coming and continued to slow.

What I didn’t expect was that she slammed on her brakes, coming to a complete stop and waved at the line of traffic on the ramp to come out in front of her. I came to a halt closer to her rear bumper than I would have liked. My truck has disc brakes front and back, and, believe me, they saved the day. She never looked up from her cellphone. All I could think was, “Lady! You have no idea how bad your day almost was. Merry Christmas, lady. You can go home to your family now.”

This sort of stupid behavior happens to me, and likely every truck driver on the road, countless times a day. Is there an explanation for it? Is there any sort of logic? In my opinion, most car drivers have become oblivious to anything beyond the hood of their car. Coupled with the distractions of phones, texting and screaming children, no one seems to be paying attention to any potential hazards around them. Then, of course, there is the newer Me-First Generation who will pass on the shoulder, cut into traffic, and never realize there is anyone on the road but them.

An old friend who worked in the safety sector of commercial trucks used to swear it was because cars are built to endure crashes better now than they were years ago – airbags front, sides and rear; T-bone reinforcements in the doors; rollover protection that protects drivers and passengers from impacts that leave the car a twisted mangled wreck. And the occupants walk away. There is no longer the fear factor there was years ago. People feel safer, bulletproof and protected. Aggressive and bad driving habits seem like the norm because they don’t think there is a danger of getting hurt.

I honestly do not know what goes through someone’s head to make them think a 3,000-pound plastic car will win in a battle with a loaded 80,000-pound truck.

Lord knows the last thing I ever want to do is hurt someone on the highway. Besides the potential terrible injuries, there is the damage to my personal equipment and my loss of work that would ensue from the equipment being in a repair shop for months, and the bills would keep on coming.

I sometimes wish that I could tell that person what a near-fatal mistake they just made, but we all know how that would turn out. Plus, I’m allergic to pepper spray, so that’s out. I do remember, some years ago, there was a handy little item marketed for conveying your message to the other driver. It looked like a ping pong paddle with printed cards that flipped over to get your message out.

“Nice turn signal, Dummy.”

“Headlight burned out.”

“Stop tailgating.”

Plus, several others that were not politically correct, but I thought were funny anyway. I never bought one as I figured with my luck, I’d get a 9 mm salute on the L.A. Freeway.

So, to the oblivious lady in the Volvo with no clue, as well as the other countless nondriving dingbats: Merry Christmas from just another trucker who is more worried about your safety than you are and followed a few simple rules.

Happy trails and a very safe and wonderful holiday to all. LL

Read more of Diesel Dave Sweetman’s column “Dashboard Confidential” here.