A Reflection on 5.5 Million Miles of Driving

By NMA Alaska Member Merrill Gehman

When we were young, we learned many things about driving from those that we saw driving. We learned from an early age, who can drive and who can’t. We started driving farm equipment as kids and graduated to cars and trucks later. Driving was something we could excel at unlike things happening in the classroom or in social settings. We learned some things the hard way and learned that some people could get away with things we couldn’t on a highway, especially if we drove a truck.

Nowadays, beginning motorists learn rules of the road that are contrary to what works best on highways. Experienced drivers, with their many hours on the road, have thought long and hard about these rules. One example that comes to mind is that the middle lane or lanes on a multi-lane highway are a thru lane. The practice of using the middle lane on a three-lane highway where trucks are restricted from using the left lane is a big pet peeve of mine because that middle lane is a trucks only lane or at least the best passing lane for a truck. Cars parked in that middle lane is more than frustrating for a professional truck driver (or anyone else for that matter).

The blindspot or the no zone around trucks is also a problem. Ever since the advent of the 8.5 inch convex mirror, vehicles alongside the truck can be seen more easily than from a car. Driving instructors seem to be teaching beginning motorists to be afraid of driving near trucks, but drivers shouldn’t be. It’s easier for a truck to stay in their lane because we can see our trailer wheels and the traffic next to the truck with this new kind of mirror. Something most drivers probably don’t know.

There is a hierarchy out there on the road. Truck drivers are misunderstood, and their viewpoint is rarely verbalized adequately to be understood by anyone who doesn’t drive a truck.

Experienced drivers found out the hard way that it’s very difficult to almost impossible to defend oneself in court with those who have a limited view of driving. We have to defend ourselves from the police for things that normally would be considered reasonable and prudent with other drivers.

For me, the most dangerous person on the road is the traffic law enforcement officer even though they are part of what helps to make highways safe to drive.

Experienced drivers must defend themselves every foot, every mile, every second, every minute, day, week, month, and year for the millions of miles we drive.

Truckers can no longer drive reasonable and prudent.

The worst citation I received was in the 1980s. Pennsylvania local police were using ESP tapes, two rubber tubes taped across the road at a determined distance apart, connected to a police car computer, to calculate the speed of a vehicle that crossed over. I was charged with criminal mischief for accidentally damaging the second set of ESP tapes. Braking an empty heavy truck over the tapes will sometimes allow the fourth axle to slide, which then damages the tape. That happened to me twice.

The second most unjust citation in my 50+ years of driving was in Massachusetts. My truck was full of Sport Illustrated magazines. Winter weather driving was dicey. The left two lanes were covered with five inches of mainly untracked snow and not a single vehicle driving there. The right two lanes were similar except with a bit more traffic. I caught up to the line of traffic in the second lane from the right, traveling at about 30 mph. I decided to pass on the left since I had great traction and good visibility. I was traveling at 50 mph when I noticed a police car in the lineup of traffic. He eventually began following me even though he was slipping and sliding a bit. He tried to follow but didn’t have as good traction up the grade as I did. He eventually caught up to me after I was already pulled over by another officer. The first officer gave me three citations: one for truck lane restriction, one for driving too fast for conditions, and one for fleeing from a police officer. At my court trial, I was able to have the second two citations dismissed by plea bargaining.

The spirit of the truck lane restriction law is to keep trucks from holding up traffic in those lanes. I felt it really would have been unsafe for me to pass the line of traffic on the right and I also would have had to slow down in case one of the other vehicles had lost control due to the bad road conditions.

Even though these citations happened years ago, they affected my driving and my attitude towards law enforcement. For eleven years and a million miles, I drove the exact speed limit by checking my speedometer every two seconds. I got the best fuel mileage in the fleet for many years, but drivers did not want to get behind me because I held them up way too much.

I found in many places that speed limits weren’t posted but were still enforced. Many towns have blanket speed limits and many times these limits are not posted on any street. You are just supposed to know somehow.

The police have got you unless you stop in every township, town, city, or municipality and inquire as to these ridiculous speed limit laws or drive 15 mph all the time on all roads.

I never went that far, so I guess, I still maintain some reasoning skills. But I did stop at many police stations in the Mid-Atlantic States to complain about specific speed limits and to learn the specific speed posting practices. I wanted to know how that related to me and how I could obey these limits precisely.

I now live in Alaska. We have similar speed trap issues here.

Driving is a social action. Those of us in the driving culture could benefit all drivers by verbalizing the ins and outs of driving, so it is understood by more people.

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One Response to “A Reflection on 5.5 Million Miles of Driving”

  1. James C. Walker says:

    Merrill Gehman points out what most drivers instinctively understand – a very high proportion of posted speed limits are set arbitrarily for political reasons, not to enhance safety, and these improper arbitrary limits sometimes actually degrade safety. They DO, however, prove to be very profitable for speed trap enforcement.