Sense in the city

| July 03, 2007

Confusing signs make navigating an unfamiliar city more difficult. Plan your route ahead of time.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this,” says Robert Petrancosta, Con-way Freight’s safety and environmental compliance director. “You have heavier traffic. You have shoppers looking for parking spots. You’re going into and out of residential areas. So you have to be more aware and practice your best driving skills.”

Compared to rural interstates, cities feel confining, frantic and distracting: places where some say 70-foot vehicles don’t belong.

“Traffic is just too heavy in these cities for big trucks,” says 42-year driver Lyman Jenkins, now with 1 McConnell Transport of Woodstock, New Brunswick, Canada. “The trucks are getting bigger – 53-foot trailers, extended wheel bases and 102 inches wide. City streets just aren’t built for them.”

“In some big cities, like Chicago, the streets are too narrow,” echoes 17-year driver Wayman Collins, a resident of that metropolis. “They’re not designed for the big trucks we have today. Some of them have hardly enough room for a six-wheeler.”

Of all a truck driver’s routine tasks, city driving is the most challenging and demands the lion’s share of a driver’s energy. Some drivers won’t go into certain cities, testifying to the difficulty of piloting an 18-wheeler through urban environments.

“City driving is not a kid’s job,” Collins says. “That’s a man’s job.”

Mistakes are inevitable
In unfamiliar territory full of potential booby traps, error-free driving is virtually impossible, even if the driver does everything correctly.

“You’re going to get cut off,” Jenkins says. “People in the city don’t respect trucks. They hurry here and there. They don’t use signals, and they ignore yours. If you need to change lanes, it’s darn near impossible to get over.”

Or instead of pushing four-wheelers out of the way, you miss a turn or get stuck in a construction site and can’t safely do anything about it.

In city driving, just one small mistake – a missed or wrong turn – can put even an experienced driver in a difficult situation.

“A lot of drivers go down the wrong streets,” Collins says. “I see plenty of trucks holding up traffic and trying to back up. Without police assistance, that’s virtually impossible.

“And in just about any big city east of the Mississippi, you’re going to run into low bridges and narrow streets.”

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