The worst days I ever had at work came while sitting in the driver's seat of an 18-wheeler.
In my late teens and early 20s I spent my summers steering big rigs to help put myself through journalism school. I worked for Coca-Cola in Manitoba, delivering pop, water and juice around Winnipeg and to all corners of the Keystone Province.
At first, I started out as a "case monkey," helping out the injured guys who were healthy enough to drive but unable to schlep any soda. But if I wanted to stick around and keep collecting cheques, I was expected to go and obtain my Class 1 license.
I'm still certified to drive semis and plan to do so if the newspaper industry reaches a complete collapse and leaves me out of work. But I'm praying that never happens, because I wouldn't describe hauling as an enviable job.
It was during my time as a trucker that I gained a real appreciation for the stress and demands of the job, not to mention the skill and quick thinking that is needed in this line of work.
Anytime someone gets behind the wheel, they are responsible for the safety of the other motorists around them. That is especially true for a trucker, not only because of the size and power of the vehicle they're operating, but also because other drivers become idiots on the road anytime they see a truck in their way.
Am I generalizing? Perhaps. But if you haven't been guilty of it yourself, you have certainly seen it take place right in front of you — SUVs speeding out of frustration because the semi ahead is driving the posted limit; cars cutting off a tractor-trailer to claim "its" space on the road; minivans moving along in a truck's blind spot, only to be forced to slam on the brakes when it ends up in a near-collision.
Just about every close call I was involved in while driving 18-wheelers was the result of another driver's actions. I was far from skilled as a big-rig driver — the time I drove a trailer into the side of a Real Canadian Superstore is a story for another day — but I always exercised the utmost caution to keep everyone near me safe at all times. There's no other option when the majority of drivers seem to insist on putting themselves in harm's way.
Meanwhile, trucking is a thankless job. When you're out there alone on the road, your job satisfaction is what you make of it.
If you have a good employer in your own day job, a long and hard day's work will earn you a pat on the back, and putting in the extra effort will gain you some recognition. If you're a trucker, there's nobody waiting for you at the loading dock to say, "That was your best parking performance yet. Keep up the good work!" Your only feedback is the car horns, stink-eyes and flipped birds of the people to whom you've been an inconvenience.
I should also take this time to reiterate that my own trucking days took place in the summer in Manitoba — the roads couldn't be any flatter, straighter or easier to travel on, but the stress of driving them still took its toll.
It's because of all this that I was disappointed to see many folks flock to social media, quick to place blame on the driver in the fatal logging truck accident on Highway 99 Oct. 19, without knowing any of the details.
If I were to draw from my own experience, the driver would be one of the last places I would look to assign blame.
I won't pretend to know all of the ins and outs of logging transportation, but after looking at some of the comments made to Pique by industry experts last week, I'm inclined to believe that the fault isn't entirely that of the guy behind the wheel.
In particular, I would point to the B.C. Forest Safety Council representative who said that, "over 80 per cent of the time the issue is with the other vehicles on the highway, the logging truck wasn't the beginning factor." I wouldn't be surprised at all if the rate was even higher than that.
What's more, the United Steelworkers Union director made the point that these are drivers who are working long, difficult hours at the behest of their employer, which can only add to the tension faced on the road. That's not even factoring in the stress of having a family at home that is dependent upon timber making it from Point A to B on time.
Tragically, a life was lost in this truck crash and my thoughts are most certainly with the deceased's family. But it's also worth remembering that the driver of that truck will have to spend his days knowing that a vehicle under his control caused a death, whether it was his fault or not.
He'll be re-living his worst day at work for the rest of his life, and I can guarantee he'd already had plenty of bad ones.
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