Professionals in any industry are held to higher standards than the general public.
Professional truck drivers are expected to obey the rules of the road and take every precaution necessary to ensure safety on the highways. I knew that, having been a truck driver for twenty-five years. A Florida State Trooper reminded me of it when a man driving a car did something foolish. My response nearly led to losing my commercial driver’s license. The trooper didn’t know what the other driver had done prior to the collision and he didn’t want to know. His opinion was that I should have known better. That’s what I was trained to do and that’s what I was getting paid for.
In the summer of 2005, Hurricane Ivan demolished an I-10 bridge, 10 miles east of Pensacola, FL. It was a heavily traveled stretch of interstate highway. Two years of re-construction funneled traffic down to one lane and drove drivers to their wit’s end.
In my right mirror I noticed another 18-wheeler creeping along with the backed-up traffic, half his truck in the right lane and the other half on the shoulder. I had seen many truck drivers doing this in construction zones to keep “4-wheelers” from passing on the shoulder. I didn’t think it was right that cars would continue to pass illegally, but it never bothered me enough to block someone with my truck. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” And besides, you represent the company you work for and their name is all over the truck. I wouldn’t want a driver parading recklessly down the road with my name on the truck.
Again, in my right mirror, I saw a car coming up the shoulder, whipping around other traffic, and passing my truck. The driver pulled in front of me and stopped. Traffic was already down to five miles an hour, when it moved. Not knowing what was wrong with that driver and feeling pressured by the additional obstruction that my truck created, I passed the stopped car on his left before the left lane was completely closed. He then drove around on my left side and pulled the front hood of his car under the frame of the trailer, in front of the trailer wheels. I couldn’t see him at this point as I was merging back over to the right lane, leaving my view of the left side in a blind spot. The front of my trailer’s tires hit the right front fender of his car. Traffic was still stop-and-go. The driver approached my cab and ranted that I hit his car. His face was beet red; blood vessels protruded on his forehead. Now I had to pull over to the shoulder and wait for the state police.
The trooper spoke to the other driver first, and then came to me. He asked me where my truck was when I hit the car. I told him that I was moving over from the left lane to the right. He responded that I was driving down the middle of the highway. I tried to tell him that it wasn’t like that. “He pulled in front of me and stopped,” I attempted to explain, “so I got in the left lane to go around him.” He didn’t want to listen to my story. The only thing he chose to hear was that I was driving down the center of the road. It was about this moment when I realized that the driver of the car had deliberately blocked me to get back at the other truck driver that had blocked him on the shoulder. How could I have been so naïve?
The laws in the states of Florida and California are strict on commercial motor vehicles. Reckless driving is considered a criminal offense and not a moving violation. I could have been arrested and taken to jail. Fortunately, I was only issued a citation and allowed to continue on my route. I hired a lawyer in Pensacola to help me through the process and to defend me, should the case go to court. He informed me that Florida courts were not sympathetic to truck drivers. At best, I could hope for paying a steep fine and doing some community service. I never did have to appear at a hearing. My attorney did all the footwork. A deposition hearing was held at the Escambia County District Attorney’s Office (DA) in Pensacola, FL. The other driver gave his deposition and in my attorney’s words “his spiteful demeanor got everybody’s attention.” He explained how he drove around the other 18-wheeler, “off the shoulder and into the grass to get by him.” I didn’t even know he had done that. The DA chose not to prosecute the case.
The State Trooper was in the DA’s office when the other driver displayed his lack of self-control. I wondered if the trooper had changed his opinion of me. I didn’t run recklessly into that man’s car. I did, however, act unprofessionally when he stopped in front of me. If I had waited patiently, there wouldn’t have been an incident to begin with, for which I had to defend my actions. What the trooper was trying to say was that this is what I was trained to do, therefore I should have known better. I had no other incidents the last two years of my driving career. Patience isn’t only a virtue; it is a conscious, practiced effort.