Before I gained my truck licence last year, I held a one-dimensional stereotypical view of truck drivers. They were a breed apart, a foreign subset of people who were likely to wear flannel shirts and have snake tattoos on their arms. But having taken a crash (ha!) course, swotted the theory, passed my practical, studied the required units and clocked up about 6000-km driving a horse truck, I've acquired a new respect for the sometimes maligned truckers on our roads. Here are the lessons I've learned:
Truck drivers leave space in front of them for a reason
Truckers leave a lot of a space in front of their vehicle because they can't stop in a hurry. Yet I've lost count of the times I've seen a car scoot in front of a truck on the motorway forcing the driver to take evasive action. If you feel you must pull into this essential safety space then have the courtesy to accelerate away promptly. On my last trip in the truck a car hurriedly pulled out of a side road in front of me and then proceeded along at well below my 90-kph. One word: dangerous.
Truck drivers prefer the second-to-slowest motorway lane
If you've ever wondered why trucks don't usually use the inside lane on the motorway, it's because traffic in the lane to the right of it flows more freely. Vehicles merging from on-ramps into the left lane provide a needless hazard to heavy trucks which need more room to slow down.
Some truckers are more qualified than others
I have my class 2 licence which permits me to drive what is called a medium rigid vehicle eg a truck. I suspect that holders of a hardcore class 5 licence (for heavy combination vehicles eg a truck and trailer) probably laugh at amateurs like me.
Friendliness levels diminish near Auckland
On the Napier-Taupo Road almost every oncoming truck driver waves cheerfully at their fellow truckers. But between Taupo and Auckland this friendly gesture ceases. It must be the proximity to the big smoke that somehow neutralises the camaraderie.
Detours are difficult
In early September I was driving the truck south through Tirau when traffic was diverted to avoid fertiliser that had spilled on SH1 following an accident. "Where are you going, Love?" asked the emergency crew member. "Hawke's Bay," I said. She indicated that I should turn right. "Follow those vehicles," she instructed. Well, I tried to follow them but the road was narrow, windy and hilly. I couldn't keep up. With two horses and one child on board, I'd have been lost if the adult behind in the living quarters hadn't used the navigation on his iPhone to direct me back to SH1. And being lost in a truck is difficult.
There was nowhere I could have safely pulled over to use my own iPhone, and if I took a wrong turn it could have been many kilometres before I found a suitable place to turn around.
Fatigue is also called "the silent killer"
On my truck course we did a whole unit on fatigue: how to prevent it, how to recognise it and how it can affect our driving. It was drummed into us that driving while tired is a very bad thing and we need to make lifestyle choices to ensure we are fit for the task of being in charge of a heavy vehicle. We were given advice on eating right, sleeping well and keeping fit. Needless to say, we were warned off alcohol and drugs. These are not messages that support those rumours of truckers who take drugs to help them stay awake while driving.
Log books must be kept
Strict rules apply to "work time" - that is: "the maximum number of hours a driver of a commercial or heavy motor vehicle is allowed to work, including driving, before they must take a rest". Professional drivers must keep detailed and up-to-date records of their trips as well as their rest periods. They must take a 30-minute break after 5.5 hours of working. Drivers in breach of these rules may face a $2,000 fine while their employer risks a $25,000 fine - all of which gave me great confidence about levels of professionalism within the industry.
Ice Road Truckers is strangely compelling viewing
This reality television series focuses on "truckers in the world's most dangerous tundras carry[ing] vital equipment to remote outposts ... over roads temporarily created by frozen bodies of water". What makes this such seductive viewing?
Is it the alien terrain, the unpredictable weather, the ever present risk of losing control, the loads that come loose en route - or the fact that one of the intrepid drivers being "challenged by polar conditions, isolation and the lack of creature comforts" is an attractive young woman?
Are you a truck driver? What's your biggest bugbear on the roads? Are truckers sometimes misunderstood? Or do you prefer the term "truckie"?