I acquired my truck licence four years ago. On the first day of my truck course I went for a drive with the trainer. I'd never been behind the wheel of a truck before and I assumed this was a lesson.
"I haven't driven a manual for over twenty years," I said but I needn't have bothered explaining. This fact became apparent during the drive.
I stalled the truck twice at roundabouts and lost count of the number of times my patient trainer said: "I think that's fifth" when I'd been aiming for third gear. Anyway, at the end of this drive I discovered I had passed the practical part of the licence.
I've driven the horse truck close to 20,000 kilometres since then. Luckily this particular truck is automatic and I've not stalled it once. But over the years I've come to understand some of the issues that truck drivers must grapple with on the open road.
Recently I co-drove the horses from Auckland to Hawke's Bay and discovered afresh some bad habits of other road users.
1. Pushing in front of a truck
If you're going through a town in a truck, other motorists entering the main highway from feeder roads are often desperate to get ahead of you.
Sometimes there's a noticeable delayed reaction. First, they pause as if to acknowledge that the laws of physics (as well as those of the road code) indicate that they should wait.
Then the driver must realise it is preferable to not get stuck behind a truck so he or she proceeds anyway, seemingly oblivious to the fact that forcing a heavy vehicle to decelerate suddenly in order to avoid you is not recommended.
2. Overtaking a truck at the end of a passing lane
It's most disconcerting to witness drivers risking life and limb in order to pass a truck at the very end of a passing lane. I always put on my truck's right indicator well before the two lanes become one but that doesn't seem to deter motorists who are racing to their destination. I just want to shut my eyes as these optimistic people in cars hurtle towards a narrowing space marked by my truck on on one side and (often) double yellow lines on the other. So far, they've all got past in once piece. Sometimes they have to apply the brake when they join the tail end of the line of cars ahead which is kind of ironic considering the rush they were in.
3. Stepping out in front of a truck
Some pedestrians clearly don't understand that a truck is heavier than a standard vehicle and therefore is unable to stop as swiftly.
I reckon the two people who stepped out onto the road at the pedestrian crossing at Clive a couple of Saturdays ago were unaware of this fact.
On this occasion, I was able to stop safely (despite not having my air-brakes on) but I would have preferred not to experience those moments of doubt ("Are they? Aren't they? Surely not.") followed by the brief panic ("Arrrgh! They have stepped out in front of me. I'd better stop fast.")
Oh, to have such blind faith and confidence in the driving skills and good sense of unknown drivers.
4. Pulling into a truck's stopping distance
Car drivers may have noticed that truck drivers generally leave a great deal of room between their vehicle and the vehicle ahead. I reckon some motorists incorrectly surmise that this space is provided as a convenient place for them to pull into.
This phenomenon is most evident on Auckland's multi-lane motorways. In fact, this room is left deliberately by the truck driver in order to cater for the fact that heavy vehicles need plenty of road ahead in order to stop. Other motorists should be aware that cutting into a truck's stopping distance is dangerous.
5. Being an ungrateful cyclist
As a motorist I give cyclists the widest possible berth, especially if I'm driving a truck. I usually pass them only when I can cross to the other side of the road so there's no chance of getting too close to them.
This means I must sometimes crawl (a decent distance) behind to wait for favourable circumstances. I'll never forget the time a cyclist gave me the finger as I passed. I'd been patient, waited until there were no oncoming cars and passed him safely with metres to spare.
I reckon it was better treatment than most motorists would have delivered so his animosity towards me was difficult to understand. I'm still not sure how I managed to upset him so much.