HERMON, Maine — Truckers passing through Maine say they keep safety at the front of their minds all the time because their livelihood is at stake.
“That’s number one. If you’re not safe, you’re not going to get to where you’re going,” said Duane Laybolt, a truck driver from Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, who had taken a break at Dysart’s Truck Stop on Wednesday. “My eyes are always going like radar and watching for everything.”
Truck drivers emphasized that safety is a top concern when they’re behind the wheel, but were mixed on regulations passed in the last few years that were aimed at keeping drivers alert.
Truckers can drive for 11 hours and work 14 hours a day. Federal law now mandates that drivers take a 30-minute break so that no trucker drives more than eight consecutive hours at a time.
“The addition of the half-hour break … it’s good in theory, but a lot of times you just end up looking at the clock waiting so you can drive again,” said Nate Watson of Leominster, Mass. “You don’t feel any more rested. In fact, you feel a little more aggravated.”
Truck drivers are required to keep logs of their hours. Some use a manual written log, while others use electronic logs.
Loren Horender of Little Falls, N.Y., has been a trucker for eight years. When he first started, drivers were allowed to use cellphones. Now they’re not, which has made roads safer, he said.
A 2011 federal law change allowing truckers hauling 100,000 pounds onto Maine’s interstate highways has also made for safer roads, according to Gary Brooks, maintenance manager for Dysart’s Transportation.
If a car pulls out in front of a truck hauling 10,000 gallons of fuel from a side road, “they have nowhere to go,” he said. “They’re either in the ditch, upside down or over the car. Out on the interstate, there’s no roads crossing. There’s no school buses to deal with and there’s a whole lot less traffic. It’s much, much better to have the guys out there.”
The trucks themselves are also safer, said Brooks. Air bags, disc brakes, traction control and stability control are among safety improvements in the past 10 years.
Despite the improved safety of trucks and truck drivers, oftentimes the finger is pointed at the trucker when there’s an accident.
“Guilty until proven innocent,” said Laybolt.
Usually, it’s the driver in a passenger vehicle who’s likely to be at fault, said Watson.
“Ninety-nine times out of 100, a truck driver is doing what he’s supposed to be doing. It’s their livelihood,” he said.
Horender said some trucking companies will fire truckers involved in an accident, even if the trucker wasn’t at fault.
Drivers texting, driving dangerously and cutting trucks off is a major hazard.
“I find a lot of cars don’t respect the trucks,” said Laybolt. “The other week in Connecticut, a car came up the ramp and my truck was well clear of the ramp. He shot up by me and had no choice other than to cut me off because he was going to smack the concrete wall. It would’ve taken him an extra two seconds to wait. It was just stupid.”
Horender admitted that, just like any group of people, there are some truckers better than others.
“There are great truck drivers and there are poor truck drivers, just like anybody else,” he said. “We have a job to do, and our job is driving.”