I didn't even realize people were all that curious about trucking. They usually just look at me like "where's your beard and flannel?" when I tell them I'm a truck driver. Somehow being a trucker means I've gotta look like Paul Bunyan or something.
So people wanna know: "why do you guys travel next to each other and slow down traffic?"
Well, there are two different situations I should explain. The first one is what we call an "elephant race". Pretty self explanatory there. One of us is trying to pass the other one. Why? Because we hate being stuck behind someone as much as you do. I can't tell ya how many times I've come up on a slow rolling vehicle and started rocking back and forth in frustration, waiting a chance to get around them too. But, by then, I've been slowed down enough that when I pop out to the left it takes a few minutes to get the gerbils runnin full speed again. What, you thought we just did it to slow down your commute? Trust me, we've got better things to do.
Another reason you might see this is if we are coming up on stopped traffic. Then we sometimes implement a "rolling roadblock". Why? Because people just looooove hopping into the lane that's going to be closing down so they can run up ahead and cut back into line. They're in a bigger hurry than everyone else I reckon. Their lives are more important so they shouldn't have to wait in line with us "common folk". But what they end up doing is creating a bottle neck that slows down everyone behind them. Not that the people creating the problem care. So we big guys "encourage" people to merge sooner and traffic flows smoother. You're welcome.
"Why don't you guys get over so we can merge?" Well, I could ask why it's so difficult for you guys to look at the traffic on the highway and gauge your speed and merge point. Honestly, sometimes I just maintain my speed and lane hoping that the car getting on is driven by someone smart enough to do that. Other times I simply can't get over. Try this: when you're frustrated that a truck hasn't moved out of your way, look UNDER his trailer. Do you see a car on the other side? Is there one right next to his cab that you can't see? I notice cars aren't real inclined to let us over. Must be the blinker that confuses them.
Wanna know a couple things that frustrate the hell out of us about merging? A) when we DO get over to let a car on and they match speed with us right next to us. Oh goody, now I can't get back over without slowing this giant down. No good deed goes unpunished.
B) when we are pretty much forced to slow down for the potato head who isn't going highway speed. They hang out right there in the perfect spot to become lunch for my radiator because he's going significantly slower than me. Then, once I drop down to match his 45 mph, he suddenly realizes he's on the highway and takes off like a missile. Invariably we are back there wishing we had .50 cals mounted to our hoods. Ugh.
"So, like, you guys have 18 brakes and stuff, right? So you can stop pretty fast". I was asked that by a college girl once. And was instantly saddened that she graduated high school. To answer the first part: "like, no, we don't got 18 brakes." You get 2 for each axle. Thats it; that's your allotment. It's not sauce for your McNuggets; we can't pay extra and get more. That's 10 brakes for most trucks. Sound like a lot? Your 2,000 pound car has 4. My 80,000 pound truck has 10. Guess who can stop quicker.
The second half of the question is what saddened me. See, there was this guy named Isaac Newton. He developed a few laws regarding physics and motion. His third law relates to a thing called "inertia". "A body at rest remains at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. A body in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force" (I'm paraphrasing because I'm too lazy to look up the exact quote but I think that's pretty close) Bottom line: my truck has brakes. (The outside force to act upon the body in motion). The 46,000 pounds of steel pipe I'm carrying, not so much. (No outside force to stop that 65-70 mph of forward motion). Therefore: I stop but IT wants to keep going. I'm directly in front of it. I bet you'd ease this thing to a stop too.
Here's an experiment I suggest to people: go home, get a hand full of dried spaghetti noodles. Make sure it's all evened up on the ends. Now, shake your hand up and down like you're shaking a soda before you give it to someone. Those noodles in the middle? That's what happens to our freight. Inertia.
Ya know, I bet if they taught it that way in school it'd be easier to learn. "Class, what did Newton teach us about inertia?" That your noodles make a mess of your noggin when you stop too quick.
Next question: "why don't you guys stop to help people on the side of the road?" Couple simple answers really. First and foremost: ain't nobody got time for that.
Used to be that there were big warehouses for storing stuff and they'd just shuttle it over to the stores. Now we have what's called "just in time" deliveries. If I've got something on my truck today then someone needed it yesterday.
Also, what am I gonna do? Seriously. I'm not mechanically inclined. I'm gonna pull over and go "yep, that looks broke. You should call a tow truck." What good is that gonna do you?
Still want another reason? Ok. See the previous discussion on inertia. So I see your car on the shoulder of the highway. By the time I bring this beast to a stop I'm a mile past you. Want me to jog back and tell you to call a tow truck? As nice a gesture as it would be, you know you'd want to slap me.
Yeah, trucks used to stop to render aid. Of course, now we have things like cell phones. If yours doesn't have a signal mine won't either. I suppose if I weren't in a hurry I could hang out and keep you company. Set up a grill and wait for more people to stop. Maybe have a block party while we're waiting for your tow truck. But then I don't see people in cars pulling over to help me tighten straps. Where's the love?
"Why do you guys run red lights? Don't you know that's unsafe?"
Yeah, it happens sometimes. Know what's more unsafe sometimes? Trying to stop. I finally get this thing back up to 45mph and I get to a light just as it flashes from green to red. Sometimes that yellow is so quick it's like a muzzle flash. So I've no choice but go through the red light. Inertia again. Damn you, Newton, with your laws of motion!
I suppose I could lock up my brakes, skid through the intersection, take up all four lanes trying to maintain control and finally stop while spilling my freight everywhere. But you're gonna like that option a lot less when I block off the road for most of a day in all directions. If I think I can make it through there without killing anyone then I'll lay on my air horn and not even try to slow down. Oh, by the way, make sure to look both ways before taking off at a green light, folks. Just like they taught you.
Final question: "you guys are horrible. Why do you run over animals? Why don't you swerve?" My rule? If it's got more than 2 legs I'm hitting it. 80,000 pounds moves best in a straight line. It's that simple. If Rover got out of the yard and ran out in the street, I'm sorry but Rover is a goner. Big trucks aren't known for their remarkable maneuverability. And if you swerve to miss a cat and run into my truck? There's a good chance I'm gonna lay hands on you. You'd have been better off hitting Fluffy, I'll tell you that right now.
Yes, I love animals. It sucks when I've gotta run one over. If I see it in time to safely avoid it I will. Most of us will. I don't want to risk damaging my truck or have to deal with the clean up afterward. But I'm not gonna wreck my truck for a cat either. One life down, 8 to go, kitty.
Now I always welcome questions and suggestions. I also welcome you to share these tips with your friends. So, the next time you're doing shots of 151 at a party and someone asks about physics, you feel free to tell them all about Newton and how he screwed it up for everyone with these ridiculous "Laws of Motion". They'll probably thank you as they toss back another shot. You'll be the hero and they'll be better informed. Everyone wins. You're welcome.