James Middleton worked on the line at Holden before leaving to take up a job driving trucks around the country. Here’s his story on why truck drivers deserve more respect from car drivers.

AS A GENERAL MOTORIST, we tend to take a lot of things for granted where our car is concerned. Things like, assuming that when we turn the key the car will start, that when we put our foot on the brake pedal, it will pull up nice and easily, that it’s not going to overheat… When was the last time you walked out to your car, popped the bonnet and checked your oil before you went to work? Or down to the shops? Be honest. Probably never.

By and large, but by no means will I say all, most truck drivers will do a complete check on their rig prior to turning a wheel. The consequences of failure in a vehicle that size are far too great to not check it’s in proper working order before setting off. Sure, there are cowboys out there, I’m sure you’ve come across them out on country roads or even on highways heading into the city, but you’ll find more morons behind the wheel of a car than you will find truck drivers who flout the road rules.

So why is that? Well, at the end of the day, we all have a duty of care to one another when driving down the road, don’t we? But, no matter how careful a truck driver seems to be there’s always a sense of friction between big and small road users. And, I reckon, that’s simply because most car owners wouldn’t have the faintest idea what goes on inside the cab of a truck.

See, the person behind the wheel is carrying not just a load on the back of the truck, but also a load on their mind the whole time that rig is moving. They’re in control of, sometimes, more than 90-tonne on a public road. They’ve had to master the art of an 18-speed gearbox, adjust stopping and turning, and overtaking distances, keep in mind the width of the rig… and then there are the time constraints of the product that’s being delivered. The list goes on and on.

So, the next time you’re at a set of traffic lights, and there’s a truck stopped in front of you, and you become frustrated at how slowly it pulls away from the traffic lights and curse the fact it’s on the road at all, spare a thought for the person in that truck. See, by the time you’ve travelled from one side of the intersection to the other, that truckie is likely to have made four to five gear changes, dealt with cars from the other lane cutting across his bumper and keeping the thing in a straight line.

And that’s the thing that really got me when I learned to drive a truck; dealing with everything that’s going on at once, and everything that needs to be pre-considered. See, gears need to be selected according to the road speed of the truck and rpm of the motor. You can’t just chuck your foot on the clutch, and drop through the gearbox like Mark Winterbottom blasting down Conrod Straight. The gearbox needs to be caressed. Sure, the motors and gearboxes are built strong, but strong still doesn’t cut it with a big load on the back and an operator crunching through the ‘box.

The next time you’re motoring down the highway at 100km/h next, and your turn off comes up, or you’re wanting to pull over into a servo for a drink or a rest, think about what you do in your car. Maybe 250-300 metres before the point you need to stop, you’ll roll your foot out of the throttle. Maybe you’ll dab the brake. By now you’re probably slowing down nice and neatly and probably rolling into that turn off at 60km/h, or pulling up to park.

With the truck, however, the scenario is completely different. Increase your braking point back a further kilometre or more, flick the switch to let the exhaust brakes do their thing, they sound magnificent, and they do a good job, but not the whole job, but the catch is, you use the brakes at your peril. See, at 100km/h, you’ll more than likely cook the brakes by the time you’ve slowed to around 50km/h; such is the effect of the weight. This is why trucks start decelerating more than a kilometre away from where they want to pull up. Stopping a truck is a gradual operation.

The biggest annoyance though, comes when approaching a set of traffic lights in a truck, see, having left a nice big gap to pull up safely; it’s usually quickly filled by cars that don’t see stopping distance, just an opportunity to get ahead of the cars in the other lane. What they don’t understand, is that each car that pulls this trick, has just robbed the truck of at least five-metres of braking distance. And, when it comes down to it, that five metres is the difference between the truck sitting a few metres off your rear bumper, and it sitting on top of you. Don’t worry, though, the truck will be fine, however, you and your car on the other hand…

Another famous move of the car driver is out on the highways when they’re trying to overtake a truck; and driving across Australia in a road train I saw this more times than I care to remember. And that is, the number of drivers who go to overtake a truck without realizing its size.

The average road train is around 35-metres long, and when you factor in that they’re limited to 90km/h and you’re okay to travel at 100-110km/h it seems like an easy overtake. But factor in the distance required to do it, and quite a few get caught out. On many occasions, I was forced to back right off the throttle, and that’s one of the most infuriating things for a truck driver to have to do, to let someone back in who’d misjudged their manouevre. That might seem a trivial thing as the car driver speeds off into the sunset, but spare a thought for the truck driver who now has to spend the next few minutes working back up through the gears to regain the precious momentum and speed lost…

The biggest problem, as I see it, in the relationship between truckies and other road users, is the lack of understanding or care coming from general motorists. Now, I’m the first to admit that prior to getting my truck licence, I was a frustrated motorist when around a truck. That changed the moment I sat behind the wheel of a truck with an instructor beside me guiding through the complicated process of driving a truck from A to B.

So, the next time you’re out and about, and you see a truck running down the road, spare a thought for the driver of that truck and all the stuff that’s going through their mind, and chuck some patience their way. It’ll make a big difference.


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Practical Motoring

The team of journalists at Practical Motoring bring decades of automotive and machinery industry experience. From car and motorbike journalists to mechanical expertise, we like to use tools of the trade both behind the computer and in the workshop.


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