Use the CB to cope with ‘freight-training’ traffic phenomenon

Rey Moreno | September 08, 2013
I-40 east of Nashville during the morning rush hour

I-40 east of Nashville during the morning rush hour

The author of this story, Wisconsin-based Rey Moreno, is the independent owner-operator of Pro Star Enterprises.  

The daily commute is par for the course on the big road. Every major city has peak travel times. Drivers either adjust their schedule accordingly or begrudgingly march through it.

However, there are many weekend and holiday times that are simply unavoidable. Drivers want to get home by Friday evening or Saturday morning, and usually have to leave back out Sunday or early Monday. The problem is that the four-wheelers, campers and motorhomes are all on the same schedule, which creates congestion in areas far from the big city. In some cases, slow traffic runs from city to city for hundreds of miles without instigation by a single accident, bottleneck or construction zone.

We can’t change how everyone drives, but we do have the direct ability to change how we as professional drivers move through the crowd.

My days of setting the cruise control on 72 and making more than 150 lane changes a day are long gone. The older I get, the more I see myself slowing my speed down and making adjustments to my schedule to avoid troubled hot spots. And it sure would be nice if we could get along better out here. There just isn’t enough respect being offered by fellow professional drivers and I believe some changes are in order.

If you’ve ever made the drive through Wisconsin on I-90 during a Friday or Sunday afternoon, then you’re very familiar with the traffic phenomenon called “Freight-Training,” or “Clustering.” Freight-training occurs when a long line of four-wheelers follow close together in the left lane on a two-lane highway, leaving little to no safe distance between each other. Not only do the four-wheelers create a hazardous condition doing so, they also leave zero space for a big truck to get over into the left lane.

The dynamic that makes negotiating this phenomenon difficult for professional drivers is the additional element of slow moving campers and motorhomes in the right lane. So you have four-wheelers wanting to go 70-75 mph in the left lane and motorhomes going 55 in right lane on 65-mph cobbled blacktop. Big trucks usually cruising at 60-65 get slowed down by the campers and motorhomes, but can’t get over to the left lane because of the freight-training four-wheelers. Then, to make matters worse, the truck ahead of your own gets an opening into the left lane and takes 2-3 miles to pass the motorhome you’re stuck behind. Now you’re trapped in a cluster of cars to the left and unwavering slow traffic in the right. The battle of patience has begun.

To depart from dysfunction junction, let’s grab a lower gear to talk about good techniques that will help alleviate stress the next time you’re in the cluster box.

First and foremost, now is the time to be on CB channel 19 communicating with other professional brethren. We’re not talking about telling lies and killing story, what is usually heard on channel 19, we’re talking about speaking with courtesy and looking out for one another.

Technique #1 | When in the left lane and approaching a cluster of trucks stuck in the right, start asking if anyone wants out of that hole and leave room for them to get over.

Technique #2 | While in the left lane you see a slower truck in the right lane tapping the breaks because they’re getting held up by slower traffic — tap your brakes, too. Get on the radio and ask if they want over. Like the song goes, “Put a little Jake Brake in your heart.”

Technique #3 | Ask for help. If you’re stuck in a cluster, ask the next driver on the left if he’ll let you in. Like the good book says, “Ask and you shall receive.”

It’s important to remember that the major cause of congestion is dysfunctional motion, knee-jerk reactions, absence of communication and probably a few other colorful metaphors. Listen, we can’t change how everyone drives, but we do have the direct ability to change how we as professional drivers move through the crowd. With a little bit of song, prayer, fast heel and toe work, and about 100 or so CB curls, you’ll have danced your way through the storm. Seriously, the bottom line is to just start communicating and open up space for the other guy. Eventually others will see the progress and get with the program.

A critical question to ask yourself: Is fighting the traffic worth the headache and the safety risks and additional pounding your truck will take?

We all know heavy traffic will increase stress levels, increase the risk of accidents, and you’re going to be hammering the throttle, scratching gears, and dynamiting the brakes somewhere along the line. Don’t forget, either, that trying to go around has its own set of problems. Chances are the local savvy four-wheelers are trying to make their way around the mess too.

The other obvious alternative to the song-and-dance technique is to either wake up ultra-early and beat the traffic or just end your day short before the traffic hits. Weighing the cost-benefit compared to the opportunity of a couple more hours of home time doesn’t always add up in my book. Moreover, the emotional value of breezing through a stretch you knew was destroyed a few hours earlier can be worth the wait.

If you know of trouble hot spots outside the big city where the traffic drives you crazy, we would love to hear about them. Also, if you have any further techniques you would like to share, please do.