about spending the day on the Turnpike in a Roadway Express
truck, I wasn't at all sure what to expect. I had never set foot
inside the cab of a truck before, let alone been "on the
road" in one.
I met with Uly Bell, Driver and Road Team Coordinator for Roadway Express, and after some coffee we were off to Roadway's Carlisle terminal. The terminal was huge, at least through my eyes seeing it for the first time. "There was no way I could possibly keep track of all of the trucks coming in and going out," I thought.
We toured the facilities, and of course I got to view the communications center where all of the incoming and outgoing information on freight is recorded. The people at the communications center keep track of all of the drivers, all of the incoming and outgoing freight, in addition to the shipment times and destinations. It's really as if the terminal were its own self-sufficient city.
Soon after the tour, we were ready to embark on our journey, or so I thought. After the standard inspection of the equipment, Uly heard something leaking when he started the ignition, so off to the mechanics garage we went. Good thing too, because while fixing the leak, the mechanic also discovered a defective light on the top of the trailer.
By the time we began our trip, I felt I had gained a good bit of information about the trucking industry and what it meant to drive a truck. After all, I already learned how to climb in and out of the cab of the truck, which was a feat in itself believe me. But I soon realized I was in for quite a lesson that day.
Once we got on the Turnpike, I realized what a difficult job it is to drive a truck. I always thought, as most car drivers do, that because you're sitting up so high in a truck, you can see everything better. That has to be one of the biggest misconceptions there is regarding trucks.
"Sometimes the only way you can tell that a car is directly behind you is by the car's shadow on the road," Uly told me. And sure enough, as I looked out at the side window on that overcast, cloudy morning, I could see nothing but a little shadow following behind. It sounds strange, but you actually have more of a limited view of the road and what is behind or even next to you when you are in a truck.
I saw firsthand, that following a truck too close, or cutting in front of them too soon, can put you in a dangerous, even deadly situation. That's why Uly practices and teaches defensive driving techniques. Without one accident in 17 of his 32 years of driving at Roadway, I realized as the morning went on, I had much to learn from Uly Bell.
"Sometimes you have to do the other person's thinking for them," Uly offered. "A truck is moving 80 feet a second when traveling 55 mph. And you figure, it takes at least one second for the driver to move their foot from the gas to the break. If I had to stop this truck suddenly it would take us the length of a football field to come to a complete stop."
The truck we were in was a 28-foot Road Team trailer that had to be at Valley Forge for the upcoming weekend. It was loaded with materials and props for the Philadelphia Family Expo in Valley Forge, PA, one of the programs in which Roadway's Road Team participates.
Uly, who initiated the Road Team in 1991 under the direction of Ron Matalavige at Roadway, explained the program during our trek along the Turnpike. "The Roadway Road Team sets out to encourage community support, safety, and individual pride in the Trucking Industry. We go out into the community and do presentations and educational classes on safe, defensive driving."
He started the Road Team at Roadway Express, after he had been selected to be a part of America's Road Team in 1989. As Road Team Coordinator, it is obvious Uly really takes pride in what he does. Informing people about road safety and sharing the road both with cars and trucks, just comes natural to him.
It really was a learning experience for me. I had not realized so many things that I do, as a driver of a car, that can put me in danger when driving behind, along side, or even in front of a truck.
On a limited access highway such as the Pennsylvania Turnpike, it is so important to remember to use your turn signal when entering, exiting, and especially when changing lanes. "You need to catch the driver's attention," Uly explained. He informed me that 37% of all accidents involving trucks are accidents that occur on an angle.
As we drove along the turnpike he pointed out situations of which I should be aware. For instance, vehicles to our right that were entering the Turnpike on acceleration ramps, vehicles to our left that were passing and vehicles along the berm of the road that had stopped for one reason or another, can make or "brake" an accident.
"Always make sure you have your headlights on if the weather is overcast or cloudy, especially if the color of your car tends to blend in with the roadway. And whatever you do," he told me, "Make sure you don't use your parking lights." I had never realized what a difference that could make, until he pointed it out to me while we were driving. And the color of your car making a difference? I never thought how much a grey, silver or tan colored car could really blend into the roadway.
The fact that the Turnpike has fewer exits, is a bonus to traveling the Turnpike for Uly. "I like the fact that you don't have cars constantly coming at you from all sides getting on and off the highway." The SNAP system, or the rumble strips along the shoulder of the road is also a great help to Uly as a truck driver.
On the way back from Valley forge, we switched trailers and spent the afternoon picking up freight at a number of stops in and around Lebanon, PA. What a difference an afternoon makes! City driving is sure different than highway driving, a lot more tricky! Once the truck was full, we were on our way back to the terminal.
I guess the most important thing I learned that day was to make yourself - your car visible to other drivers, especially truck drivers. I can't say enough about the experience, or the helpful tidbits Uly gave me that seem to almost come natural to me now as I drive up and down the Pike.
I don't think I'll be out there driving a truck for Roadway anytime soon, but I do have a greater appreciation and understanding of the Trucking Industry as a whole, and for Uly Bell, Road Team Coordinator - Truck Driver, in particular.
If you would like a Road Team member to visit your community or business, contact Uly Bell with Roadway Express at 1-800-523-0833 ext. 4904, or contact the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association's Road Team at (717)761-7122.