If commuters only understood. That is the prevailing mentality of truck drivers when it comes to courtesy, and the lack thereof, on Florida’s highways.
Jacksonville-based truckers say if people better understood the challenges of driving 18-wheelers, they’d be less inclined to spar with them on the roads.
Lane changes and merging trigger the vast majority of road rage between trucks and other vehicles, the drivers said. That’s especially true of cars squeezing in front of tractor-trailers, forcing them to slam on the brakes.
“What the car doesn’t realize is: We’re not as light as they are; we can’t stop as quick as they do,” said Wes Sellars, safety director for Rinaudo Enterprises, a Jacksonville-based trucking company that maintains a fleet of 67 heavy-haul trucks and 77 specialized trailers.
Hitting the brakes hard on a truck causes dysfunction in the braking system and can shift the truck’s load out of balance, truck drivers said.
They also shared horror stories of truckers being killed after having to veer out of the way of commuters cutting them off. In one Jacksonville incident, a truck driver was killed after becoming a victim of road rage.
In May, George Guerrero of New Jersey was leaving Jacksonville on Interstate 10 near Chaffee Road when witnesses said a second semi pulled alongside him and bumped his truck. Guerrero was shot and killed by the second truck driver. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has not yet identified a suspect in the shooting.
Brion Newcomb, a veteran trucker, said he has never experienced any road rage quite like that in his 30 years of driving. But he said other truck drivers are getting just as aggressive as those who drive commuter vehicles.
“I was brought up old school. My daddy drove,” Newcomb said. “I’ve been around it all my life. I flash lights and try to be courteous, and people just come over without even thanking you.”
Shawn Raymond, another truck driver, said he hadn’t heard of Guerrero’s death, but he has heard of other truckers being shot at.
“A lot of us would really, really like to be able to arm ourselves,” said Raymond, who drove trucks in the Army before entering the domestic trucking industry. “It is that big of a concern, that it gets talked about with truckers. … None of us want to be shot at and not be able to shoot back.”
Company policies and gun laws prevent most truckers from carrying weapons, Raymond said. Gun-free zones such as ports, which truckers frequent, also pose restrictions to carrying firearms as a truck driver.
Newcomb, for his part, took more of a pacifist route.
“I try to walk away from a fight; I try to just steer away from everything,” he said. “I have grown to have more patience the more I’ve driven. I have patience that’s just unreal. I don’t let nothing bother me.”
But the two truckers could agree that road rage is getting worse, and they say it’s related to two other things that are growing more prevalent: traffic, and texting while driving. Newcomb said he often sees drivers drifting all over the road, or driving slowly, then sees that they are holding smartphones when he passes them.
“Nobody is paying attention,” he said.
There is also a mentality of anonymity that people get behind the wheel, aided by the idea of a quick getaway, truckers said. Raymond said that people often flip him off and drive away, knowing that he’ll never see them again.
“If somebody got ticked off at me at the grocery store, well, now I’m standing there,” he said. “That could evolve into something else, and they’d probably think it through a little more.”
That same thought process could play into the thinking of the man who shot Guerrero, Raymond added.
“That guy was obviously insane,” he said. “But he thought he could shoot that guy and get away.”
For now, that’s exactly what’s happened. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has not reported any developments on the investigation into locating Guerrero’s killer since the weeks after his shooting.
One potential solution to road rage Newcomb suggested was mandatory education on how cars interact with semis when drivers get their licenses.
“There ought to be a simulator at a DMV where they can try driving a truck and a car pulling out in front of them,” he said. “Nowadays, people just don’t care.”