Dashboard Confidential - February 2019

Situational Awareness

February 2019

Dave Sweetman


One of the best lessons learned in the Army was situational awareness. It is the skill of using your peripheral vision (eyes in the back of your head) as well as honing the observation skills to see, feel and anticipate trouble before it appears.

Undoubtedly, it is one of the most important mindsets and has saved my hide many times over. Although I am not paranoid, I try to anticipate a problem or threat before it gets to me. Parlay that into a long driving career, and it has manifested itself many times over.

Seasoned, experienced drivers get it. It’s an accrued skill. You see that car ahead of you, just past your bumper, and you just know he is about to cut you off to make the exit. That SUV trying to sneak up alongside your trailer as the lane narrows because of a construction lane closure. You would think the driver is smarter than that, but no – he wants to play battle of the fenders. I see him and make allowances.

It happens dozens of times a day, and it continually amazes me that someone in a 3,000-pound plastic car wants to play tough with a loaded 80,000-pound big rig.

That same situational awareness has kept me from bodily harm in truck stops, as well. Since the mandate of our electronic logs, I have noticed more and more drivers racing through truck stop parking lots as if that extra two minutes will cause them to shut down in the middle of the freeway. I have seen crashes and close calls, all because some yahoo is up against the clock.

I trust no one. I will wait until the driver moves on, and I have a clear path. I have been told that the mark of a true pessimist is looking both ways on a one-way street. Yep, that’s me. Too many times have I seen a driver coming in the exit, driving over concrete barriers and curbs. I trust no one.

Sometimes that same situational awareness has played tricks on me.

Many years ago, I was near Beverly Hills, Calif., making a delivery. Being of an overall length with a need for extra room for my rear gate, I had parked on a long, straight stretch on Bundy, awaiting my customer. A half block away, people were piling up flower arrangements near a gate to a fence at a condominium. My first thoughts were of a memorial for an auto accident. When my customer arrived, we handled our business and I mentioned the piles of flowers near the end of our block. I was informed that this was the home where O.J. Simpson’s wife and her friend had died and that was the gate the murderer had used for an escape. There is nothing more I could say.

A few years ago in Dallas, I was picking up multiple cars for a rally. My customer gave me specific directions where to park, and I was to wait for all the cars to arrive. I was close by his office tower, had plenty of room, and the rendezvous went perfectly. It was a pretty impressive part of town, skyscrapers on one side, older-looking buildings over there. An interesting mix of architecture, but something kept getting my attention.

Folks with cameras, tourists, I suppose, were gathered across the way. I walked over to see what the attraction was and noticed that no one was taking “selfies.” There was no laughter, instead, just solemn-faced visitors. When I turned around, it hit me. I was looking at the Texas School Book Depository on Dealey Plaza, which is the site of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The very same images I had seen a hundred times, and I was now looking at the place that changed America forever. I can tell you that there is a very heavy feel in the air that I cannot explain.

In many cases, situational awareness has kept me from harm.

In some cases, I suppose, without knowing, it, has led me to a greater awareness. Take that with as many grains of salt as you wish. LL