Another Kind of Orange Alert

Robert Lake
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Recently, big news that our nation’s Department of Homeland Security had lowered the terrorist threat warning code from high-alert orange to lower-alert yellow shared the same news page with a story about how it is now illegal to talk on your cell phone while driving in Washington, D.C.

Mandating caution is as tricky as outlawing reckless behavior, and every bit as confusing. Truckers do not need Washington to assign a color code for them to stay on high alert. Why? Because you are driving around some idiots – and I know of what I speak. Between my hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Birmingham, there’s an orange alert of another kind. Construction zones with their orange cones and double-the-fine penalties that bring out the worst in the worst drivers. I watch with utter amazement as cars cut off trucks, zipping in and out of lanes in orange-coned construction zones without the slightest awareness of truck stopping times or reaction ability. I’ve seen the grim look of concentration on truckers’ faces as they negotiate not only complicated construction zones but also the unpredictable actions of their fellow travelers.

If there were a terror alert code for truckers, the orange cones around a construction zone would be a symbolic color.

Here’s what professional drivers say they do around construction zones to stay safe, and keep those idiots in cars safe, too.

  • Double your usual following
  • Be prepared for operating construction equipment to make sudden stops.
  • Be aware that shoulders and emergency lanes, your usual escape routes, may not be available.
  • Where traffic merges, be extremely cautious of cars racing to get ahead of slowing traffic.
  • Beware of uneven or sloped road surfaces that can dramatically affect handling and stability.
  • Report broken or missing signage to local authorities.
  • Look ahead for car drivers who slam on their brakes or veer out of their lane. They may react irrationally again if they encounter panic conditions.

    Trucking is a risky business and no matter what the Department of Homeland Security says, the best alert level to operate under is “high alert.” And double that if you are in a part of the country where car drivers can zip and chat on the phone at the same time – that is, most parts of the country.

    There ought to be a law against stupidity. Until there is, be prepared for anything.