Driving home for Christmas

I’ve been debating whether to write this post for a few days now. Christmas and the New Year looms nearer and as usual and for some unknown reason stupidity abounds on our roads and escalates as we get nearer to the festive season. I can’t understand why anybody wants to take such risks to save a few minutes and potentially plunge themselves or family and friends into a lifetime of grief and regret. This post is a bit long and may not be for friends on my page that have suffered loss in an RTA.
In my early twenties and just starting out in my truck career, I was involved in a bad truck accident when I hit the back of another truck stopped on a dual carriageway in the dark with no lights on. Without going into too much detail I became trapped in the cab as the drivers seat had pushed my legs under the steel dash. In hindsight what I perceived as smoke was probably steam from the radiator but the thought of burning to death was very present. I remember a Policeman standing on the back of the other truck telling me that if it had been in a British truck and not a Volvo, I would not have survived. Luckily I rang Jacqueline from the hospital and told her I had been in a bad accident as a driver had called into her Auntie’s shop and asked which one of Alderson’s drivers had been killed this morning.
Move forward to the 1990s and one of my own trucks and its driver were involved in a fatal accident. Again without going into too much detail, it was the start of some of the blackest days to comprehend that I can remember. The truck was impounded until the accident investigators had checked it over, which is usual for a fatal RTA. I went to the accident investigation and apart from the two investigators checking the truck one other policeman was standing there. After the investigators had finished, they gave my truck the okay and even commented on how well looked after it was. The other policeman then came over and said he was glad they had found no problem with the truck as he was there to arrest me if they had, and he could see I was greatly troubled. Immediately the truck was released, I had it recovered to Scania and asked for every part of the truck to be tested against manufacturers spec to try and get some little piece of closure for what had happened. It didn’t, but the testing was so comprehensive that the police used the data as well as theirs in court. Even though as a business I was cleared of negligence, it has never given me closure and only time has dulled its memory.
Move on to 2015 and my youngest brother Andy was killed in an RTA in Dorset and while I was unloading my truck in an RDC in Scotland. It’s hard to take in a phone call telling you your brother has been killed and then drive back home with the truck. There is far too much time to think when you’re a truck driver and you spend most of your time on your own.
Something that has stuck with me for many years that happened in my early career, is another accident in which thankfully I was not involved except for being the first truck to arrive at the scene behind two or three cars. I was travelling in very heavy deep snow and this car overtook me drifting and generally fooling around as he did it. I remember thinking he must be an idiot driving like that. Ten minutes later I arrived at the scene of the accident. It seems he had lost control of his car, gone into a hedge and bounced back out right into the path of a fully laden artic tipper. There was no mobile phones in those days and it was going to be a while before the emergency services were alerted and arrived at the scene. In the meantime other people at the scene were getting the passenger of the wrecked car into another vehicle to take him to hospital. The driver was not so lucky, he was still alive but it was hard to tell where he finished and the dash of the car started. I was in my early twenties and had never witnessed anything like this before. The other people there seemed to be on top of the job so I just went back to my truck out of the way. I will never forget what I saw that day either, but I also remember thinking that somebody somewhere is waiting for him to come home and it’s never going to happen for the sake of a few minutes delay and a bit of stupidity.
One of my drivers came across a car that had hit a truck head on and overturned while driving in Germany. He could hear children screaming in the back of the car and it was quite obvious the parents were dead. The vehicle was leaking petrol, yet without a thought for himself got the two children out and away from the scene. He told me that once the emergency services arrived and taken charge, he was asked to get the truck out of the way. He went to the nearest services and had a shower as he was covered in blood and petrol, then he put his clothes in a bin. I don’t think he ever got over that experience right up to his death a long time later.
The emergency services experience these accidents a lot, but I can’t see that they ever get used to it. Some of my friends on here are either in or ex-members of the emergency services and all I can say is thank you for being there. I also have a friend on here who served in the navy and survived his warship being sunk during the Falklands conflict, and others on here that are ex-army and have endured conflict protecting our interests. Military personnel sign up with the possibility of experiencing dangerous conflicts and we should all thank them for their service. I can only imagine some of the sights they will have seen and wonder how they manage them in their heads. I’m not sure if these experiences have affected my mental health as I usually keep them locked away as much as I can, and I’ve only written this article to try and bring awareness to the grief that driving without consideration for heavy trucks and other road users bring to the survivors of such accidents. The dead aren’t suffering anymore, but the survivors have to deal with it for the rest of their days.
We are just truck drivers doing our job to make sure supermarket shelves are full and Santa’s presents are delivered on time, so you and your family can have a great festive season. My trucking colleagues and I also want to go home to our families for Christmas yet many of us will be working in some capacity or other to keep the food supply chain going over the festive period.
Tomorrow (Monday) I am being trained to drive one of our new Mercedes Actros trucks (never too old to learn) with advanced safety features. On Tuesday I start driving one of the latest trucks from Volvo that has probably the most comprehensive set of safety features on any truck. It warns me if I’m too close to the vehicle in front, or if I’m tired, or to warn me of vehicles in my blindspots, or I go over a white line without indicating. It also has collision avoidance assistance, and a camera facing forward with one on either side looking backwards that record everything that happens to a hard drive in case of an accident or incident. The one thing this truck or any of our other advanced safety equipped trucks can do, is change physics. If you pull into my braking distance and put your brakes on (a favourite pastime of car drivers coming up to a motorway exit) in front of one of these trucks, it will try its hardest to stop and avoid hitting you. However, while it can detect a stationary vehicle in the carriageway and brake accordingly in that distance, it can’t do it when the distance has been reduced by a car or other truck drivers erratic manoeuvre.
Please think carefully when driving and consider the size of the vehicle you are overtaking and how much distance he or her needs to either slow down or get out of your way before you pull in. If this document makes one person think a little bit more carefully about how they drive I will be happy. I hope we all have a merry Christmas and a happy new year, but I fear that will not be the case for everyone if current driving habits don’t change.