Editor's Desk: Steering Clear of Trouble
Driving a truck in Los Angeles can be tough. Parking spaces usually aren't long or wide enough -- and those are the ones that aren't marked "Compact." Freeway lanes are technically wide enough, but offer no emergency lane, or worse, provide a concrete divider right at the edge of the lane. But most of the problems of driving a truck in L.A. also apply to other big cities, and truck drivers have learned plenty of ways to survive in the urban sprawl.
As we're all aware, it's extremely important to know and understand your surroundings. There are two key elements to this. The first is looking at the drivers around you, and reading their body language. People who are yawning a lot may have slow reaction times, because they're overtired. (We've all been there.) If you see someone yelling at who knows what, odds are they're stressed out, and may have a short fuse. No need to risk being around if/when someone gets all road-ragey.
Another trouble sign is when you witness ill-advised -- and often illegal -- multitasking. You notice the driver's head is tilted down, or at night, you see the glow of the screen on his/her smartphone. At absolute best, these people aren't fully focused on the road, and may let the edge of a tire into your lane. At worst, they can cause a huge accident. This isn't just about people texting or talking on the phone, either. I have seen people banging drumsticks against the steering wheel, eating bowls of cereal, men shaving (with an electric razor), and others reading the newspaper, all while trying to maintain speed in traffic. When we see this odd behavior, it's best to steer clear. After all, if they end up in an accident because of what they're doing, you certainly don't want to be involved as well.
But there's a less obvious form of body language, one that doesn't involve reading the attentiveness of the driver or getting a look at what they're trying to do while driving. It's the idea of understanding car and truck body language. Even though a car doesn't smile or frown, it can indicate what the driver is thinking of doing before they do it, and that ability has probably protected you from injury and saved you thousands of dollars in repair bills.
Take, for example, the guy in the lane next to you who's not just tailgating, but is getting right up on the next guy's bumper, braking hard, backing off, and then doing it all again. This is someone who wants to go faster than the person ahead of him is allowing, and he's seeking a new lane to enter. It's safe to say he isn't going to wait for a nice, big spot, then use his turn signal to indicate he wants to change lanes. He'll dart over without signaling, probably into a space just barely bigger than his car.
So you're now faced with a choice -- do you close whatever space there is ahead, to keep him from moving over, or do you slow down, giving him more room before he muscles in? Make one choice, and you may feel like you're letting a bully win, but make another, and he may hit your truck. Do you really think he's going to check his mirrors and blind spots a second time before heading over?
Then there's the person who likes to change multiple lanes at the same time. If you're on the Interstate and can see that someone who has just gotten on is moving from the slow lane to the next lane over without slowing down, signaling, or looking, they might just try to keep going all the way to the high-occupancy-vehicle lane in one swift motion. If you see that pattern soon enough, you can plan accordingly.
Why are truck people more keenly aware of these lessons than other drivers? Trucks take up more of the lane than other vehicles on the road -- and it's even more of a challenge for big-rig and commercial-vehicle drivers. There's not that much space left in a lane on either side of a dually, which means that there's less wiggle room when other drivers drift ever so slightly into your lane, or go around a rock in the road.
Also, trucks typically require more space to come to a stop, so driving a pickup means allowing more distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you -- distance that can sometimes be cut in half when an aggressive hot-hatch driver cuts you off. Considering all those factors, there is a lot narrower margin of error. Truck people must be better prepared to deal with the inevitable knucklehead drivers on the road, and they must be more ready to act, because it requires more space and time.
However, those lessons make pickup owners better drivers, in my opinion, and set an example of the right things to do when driving in the city.