Trucker column provokes strong reactions

An article in the truckingtruth.com website, which is billed as "a positive yet honest view of the trucking industry," says there's a good reason 18-wheelers force cars out of the way by suddenly changing lanes on multilane highways. "I see this happen almost every day," said the article's author, identified only as "TruckerMike."

Another trucker, Cody Veloso of Bethlehem, sent me the article after I wrote about trucking road hogs on Friday, saying that big rigs often "nearly run cars off the road as they change lanes." Veloso said the Truckingtruth article would help me "understand truckers and why they do things."

He's right. I now understand some truckers better than ever.

"A truck will be in the right lane, then swing out into the left lane in front of a car to pass another vehicle, forcing the car in the left lane to hit the brakes," TruckerMike explained. That "is because once [truckers] hit the brakes and lose momentum, it can take them a very long time to build that speed up again … and eat up a lot of fuel." He called on car drivers to just stay out of the way. "Simply back off," TruckerMike said. "Show a little thoughtfulness."

So if you and your dinky car get squashed flat in such a situation, it's your own fault for having insufficient consideration for the fuel cost burdens of 18-wheelers, for whom thoughtfulness is not a desirable trait.

Veloso's email was among only a smattering of calls and letters taking the side of truckers following Friday's column.

On the other side of the issue, stacks of email letters, plus phone calls, passionately expressed support for my position in that column, by a margin of nearly 20-to-1.

That was unusual for me. I'm accustomed to getting hit with barrages of hostility after writing about dangerous pit bulls, the horrors of tattoos and so forth. Also, trucking interests previously orchestrated nationwide crusades to bash me after I portrayed them as greedy bullies who do not pay a fair share of the damage they do to roadways (by a margin of 9,600-to-1, compared to damage caused by cars).

Friday's column, which called for a crackdown on dangerous truckers, generated more views on the mcall.com website than any other item from that day.

That column came after the latest of many deadly tragedies caused by trucks, this one a crash that killed three people in passenger vehicles that were consumed in a terrible fire after a tractor-trailer smashed into them from behind in the passing lane of Interstate 78 in Berks County.

Judging from email sent to me, a large majority of readers feel the same as I, and two of the most touching letters were from Lorraine Tusavitz and Heather Phillips.

"Thank you for your excellent commentary," wrote Tusavitz. "I lost my beautiful sister Theresa Dearden and her wonderful husband Ned in that holocaust." Phillips, the late couple's niece, wrote a similar letter about the "horrific tragedy," wondering why nothing has been done to correct the obvious problems on a stretch of Interstate 78 known to have high fatality rates.

Vince Romano wrote to say "the state police give truckers free rein to drive as they please. … It is also interesting that our government leaders always have our tax dollars to hand out to companies as an incentive to move their warehouses and other businesses into the Lehigh Valley, but there is never any money to upgrade the roads to handle the huge volume of trucks that come along with this development."

Peter Pavlovic, a retired Freemansburg police officer, said "it extremely angers me that the state police constantly turn a blind eye to what the truckers are doing on I-78."

"My mother was killed when a trucker was speeding on Route 100 and slammed into the rear of our car," said Kathleen Kuzma of Easton. "He got off with a slap on the wrist. … The trucking industry is in the back pockets of the politicians."

And so it went, at length, but I saved the best for last. It was a telephone call from Victor Shotko of Nazareth, who said he has been driving tractor-trailers for 35 years and has 3.5 million accident-free miles.

"I'm not one of these nut cases behind the wheel," he said. "I'm just as shocked and disgusted as you are." Shotko told me how carefully he inspects his rig before driving, to make sure everything is safe, and then drives accordingly.

He said some other truckers behave the way they do because they're paid by the mile, not an hourly wage.

"It's just, 'I'm in a hurry; get out of my way … I'm on mileage pay.'" Shotko told me. "I'm just sick of all these guys getting behind the wheel and killing people."

He was not alone in making that point. "Someone should be looking into how these truckers are paid," wrote Ken Dando of Allentown. "Obviously, their form of compensation is encouraging them to make their runs in the shortest amount of time possible, encouraging needless risk-taking."

Therefore, one of the best ways to reduce dangerous driving by salaried company truckers (independents have incentives of their own to be responsible) might be to heed Shotko's simple and incisive point:

Reduce the motive for truckers to be hellbent on bullying everyone out of the way. Require that they be paid by the hour, as done years ago, instead of by the mile.

paul.carpenter@mcall.com 610-820-6176

Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays

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