When celebrating, don’t become a memorial yourself

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Memorial Day weekend traffic is but one of the issues truckers working over the federal holiday face.Memorial Day weekend traffic is but one of the issues truckers working over the federal holiday face.

It’s Memorial Day and the year is already near half over. Memorial Day weekend seems to be the first long weekend of the year when traffic gets seriously stupid – one estimate recently predicted a 3.5% rise in highway traffic, generally, with an estimated 37.6 million families on the road.

There are all kinds of warnings about the worst times to travel, but for the trucker with an appointment and a ticking clock staring him in the face, the choice to avoid those times is increasingly difficult to make. Add that to the celebration phase into the weekend, and the risk of becoming a statistic is greatly increased.

Memorial Day was officially designated a federal holiday in 1971 to honor those who gave their lives to protect the freedoms we so richly enjoy. I’ve seen estimates that around 1 in 10 of us in trucking are veterans, too, who continue to serve their country through our everyday work of making sure store shelves are stocked for families celebrating the memory of loved ones gone.

When I was young and dumb, I looked forward to reasons to celebrate but never once gave thought to those who were working through the weekend, just trying to make it home safe to their families. My concern was getting to the party early enough to maximize enjoyment of the perfect camping spot, that time spent in the fishing hole, or however we happened to be celebrating. I had been working hard and deserved time off. I needed that escape from my mundane life.

With time I grew up, became a trucker and began to see things from a different perspective.

And while I understand some of this is preaching to the choir – this is a trucking magazine you’re reading here — if I can help wake one person from a life of self-centeredness, maybe better safety on our roads is a result.

Yet my fellow drivers serving the country and taking home a paycheck over the holiday weekend might also read a warning into it. While some make the argument that the holiday no longer serves the goals on which it was founded, that doesn’t change the fact that many will be celebrating. Hence: Increase awareness of surroundings, check and double-check those mirrors as we roll. Slow down. There’s really little need to push; most places will not take deliveries until Tuesday. If you can stagger your drive times to avoid peak congestion, you might just avoid one of those unwelcome learning experiences.

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I once hit Chicago at 12:15 on a Friday afternoon not realizing it was Memorial Day weekend. It took me almost 10 hours to drive 50 miles, and believe me I was not a happy camper that weekend.

If you feel you need to tip one to honor a buddy or family who gave so you may have, keep in mind the regs around alcohol in commercial vehicles, of course.

At the same time, keep eyes peeled wide for that idiot who, thinking only of himself, has had a few. That guy who thinks a text message about an arrival time is more important than safely getting there.

If you happen to be home with your family celebrating the weekend keep in mind the CDL never shuts down, nor does responsibility to make professional choices. Don’t let it be your last weekend as a professional because of poor judgement. Don’t become a memory for others to celebrate next year.