Suicide spinoff: Blaming the trucker, once again

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Carolyn Mason’s August revealing cover story, “Suicide by truck,” turned out to be a study in extremes. On the one hand, no agency keeps stats on suicides or attempted suicides where someone jumps in front of or drives into a truck. Such incidents rarely make it into news, partly because it’s often unclear whether the instigator had suicidal intentions.

On the other hand, this obscure topic opened a floodgate of reader responses online. The familiar themes that emerged are more striking in the context of these sad, intense tales.

A suicidal collision turns the highway into a thing of horror for truckers who are suddenly drawn into someone else’s nightmare. Some drivers never fully recover from such tragedies.A suicidal collision turns the highway into a thing of horror for truckers who are suddenly drawn into someone else’s nightmare. Some drivers never fully recover from such tragedies.

One refrain is the lack of financial and emotional support from fleets and insurance companies, though some fleets have provided generous time off and sustained pay while their driver regained emotional stability. Everyone knows the potential for insurance abuse in situations as subjective as post-traumatic stress. Still, these incidents are rare and, for the most part, capable of being clearly defined. The relatively few truck driver victims should get the assistance they need.

When you first hear of suicide by truck, you expect the surrounding circumstances to be so obvious that the trucker would be subject to only cursory scrutiny. But readers noted another familiar affront: Blame the trucker. That’s even when a victim has left a suicide note, or when circumstances make it clear that there was no time for the trucker to have safely responded in any other way.

One commenter was amazed how our account of John Jaikes’ involvement in a suicide attempt pointed out that his “log books, phone records and equipment were scrutinized. Even his neighbors were interviewed about his character and driving habits.”

I imagine that professional drivers who’ve never had a suicidal encounter on the highway are not surprised. You know firsthand from the evolution of the regulatory machine that there is a tendency to hold you guilty until proven innocent.

That’s not likely to change any time soon, so be prepared – in terms of your performance and the condition of your equipment. If you don’t have a forward dashcam, consider getting one. (More information is available in Senior Editor Todd Dills’ fine coverage of forward-facing and driver-facing cameras.)

For solid operators, far more often than not photographic evidence will come down in your favor. Consider it a form of insurance against all the careless drivers, suicidal and otherwise, who can damage your career in the blink of an eye.

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