Courtesy is a two-way street, or: How best to handle the brake-checking four-wheeler up ahead

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Updated Oct 16, 2021

The other day I was heading to the Harley dealer. Beautiful 70-degree weather made for a good excuse to go look at new bikes and enjoy the time on the hog. It was on that hog that I was reminded of a request to address a little rant.

I was heading east on I-70 in Columbia. I’d moved over to the left lane in anticipation of merging traffic. Now, as many of you professional drivers know, this is a 60-mph speed zone, yet you also know that if you are only doing 60 through this area you will get run over. Still, I don’t like to push it, so I was only doing 65 when I moved over, having a clear lane to do so. At the same time, I did not wish to speed up -- a truck in front of me was still in the right lane. I’d give the driver space to merge over if they so desired. The driver chose not to do so, probably thinking I would be passing instead of pacing the truck and giving room for it to move over, ahead of me.

As the four wheelers came down the ramp, two sped up and merged in front of the semi, and one chose to pace the truck, expecting a move over. As noted, the truck driver did not move over. All of a sudden, the merging car sped up and cut the truck off as the ramp was ending -- the truck’s driver laid on the horn to express appreciation of the event.

But this was not the end of the stupidity, and in anticipation once again I slowed to give it all more room, much to the irritation of those wanting me to speed up because we were only 5 mph over the posted speed limit. My anticipation came, of course, due to the almost 25 years of OTR experience I had behind me. I wanted to give myself an out, and I am glad that I did. For after receiving the truck drivers’ thank-you for being an idiot, the merging car that had cut the professional off decided it required a brake-check response.

Because I had slowed and irritated those behind me (they’d probably been doing 70-75 mph before they were forced to slow to my speed), they’d now en masse decided I was not going fast enough at 60 mph and elected to pass me on the right.

All were just as suddenly getting on their brakes because of the brake check ahead.

The scene: The trucker is trying to avoid the idiot, I am waiting for his quick response to the left to avoid an accident, and all to my right are jamming on their brakes.

The idiot gave his signal to the truck driver that he was number one, then sped off with his salute flying proudly. Keep in mind, this all happened in less than a half a mile between exits 127 and 128; it was no surprise, really, that the idiot driver jumped back off the interstate at exit 128. I guess he was late for his appointment at Walmart.

Traffic resumed speed, and I passed the trucker and waited to merge back over after passing the 128 exit. I chose to do this because the 128 get-on ramp is a very busy entrance, and I knew that if I merged over too soon, I would be dealing with merging traffic. As I finally merged over and was passed by some of those drivers irritated by my ability to obey a 60-mph speed limit, I was greeted with a couple of salutes as well, but that was the end of it. They sped off, and I jumped off myself three miles later.

[Related: Credit where it's deserved: Motorist says she's alive today on account of a few good pros]

As I said, though, this event reminded me of a requested rant from one of my friends. He drives a dedicated route for a company out of Michigan, making three turns a week from Indiana to Brooklyn, and sees this kind of thing often. Well, all of us professional drivers see it often – that’s where my anticipation radar comes from, after all. And every single one of us ask the same thing: What the ^#@*! are they thinking?

The answer: They’re not, or if they are, they’re only thinking of themselves. Which should not be surprising, given over the years we have seen the decline of courtesy on the highways, and an increase of distractions (thank you, Steve Jobs, among others).

So, just for you nonprofessional drivers reading this, let me clue you in on some important information. No matter what the song says, 80,000-pound trucks cannot stop on a dime. If you think it is wise to brake-check a trucker, it is only a matter of time before that will literally come back to bite you in the rear. Sooner or later, one of these professionals you pull such a stunt with will not be able to avoid the ignorance and you will have the 80,000-pound truck in your lap.

If you are fortunate enough to live through that, with the implementation of cameras out here like as not you will be facing criminal charges afterwards for causing a chain reaction accident. Then, because you were the cause of the accident, you will face the inevitable lawsuits for damages and injuries.

If by chance you are lucky enough for the trucker to not have a camera, you better pray no witnesses stop.

Still, all of the above scenario was not the idiot’s fault. After all, the entire infraction could have been avoided by a little anticipation and courtesy by the professional. I know, I know, the professionals right now are saying: "Wait a minute, he did everything he could and avoided an accident." But you also know as well as I: He did not have to allow the situation to occur just as it did, either. The trucker could have slowed and allowed the car to merge in front of him. He could have sped up and allowed the driver to merge behind him. Or: the truck driver could have moved over in front of me and let the other driver in. I had given plenty of room for it, and yes, I understand that the professional was not obligated to do that, and that if an accident occurred when doing so, it would have opened up liability in a lawsuit.

But the simple fact is that the professional in this case was just as selfish and shortsighted as the idiot. The incident could have been avoided entirely.

[Related: A positive example for Joe Public, and the influence of professionalism]

Courtesy is a two-way street, and in the long run saves a lot of headache. So instead of trying to figure out what they are thinking, just anticipate that they are ignorant and selfish and the best way to be defensive is to do the opposite -- plan and read your traffic pattern. Back to fundamentals, as it were.

Be safe, drivers. After all, the goal is getting the load there intact and back home to those who appreciate you, not to let idiots run themselves off the road and destroy your reputation and safety record in the process. 

[Related: Professionals behaving unprofessionally: Letter from a truck-stop maintenance man]

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