Thursday, March 6, 2008

Everybody in the whole cell flock

I looked up into my rear-view mirror and saw a scene that’s becoming ever more common. Dude’s on his cell phone with his right hand, holding a big foam cup of coffee in his left while resting that hand on top of his wheel and steering. He sorta looks in the sideview mirrors and slides into the left-hand lane, without signaling. Who knows how – maybe used a knee? The vehicle shimmies more than it should, a result of road vibration jittering his coffee-clutching paw through the wheel.

It was, sad to say, a “professional driver” at the wheel of a flatbed, hauling construction supplies. Since it was a daycab, I guessed he was some local wheel-holder running from a warehouse to a job site or retailer, maybe.

Sadder to say, cell phones daily seduce a growing number of truckers. Guys and gals who used to scream into the CBs to “hang up and drive” are too hung up now on their own chatting to even turn on the CB. Much less pay attention to basic professionalism and courtesy such as signaling lane changes, flicking lights to permit other drivers to do so, staying aware of the road around them.

I can’t help but wonder how many of them are also texting while toodling down the road, or squinting at tiny video or Internet images. Maybe watching a movie they downloaded to an MP3 player?

Some years ago when I first got into the truck journalism biz, I helped redesign and relaunch a venerable trucking magazine that had long been published in a digest format – similar to Reader’s Digest. We got some unhappy feedback from drivers who liked to stuff the small volume in a pocket. More than a few said the smaller size was easier to prop on the wheel and read while they drove.

I laughed then, but now I wonder, especially after hearing how team drivers would change places on the move, how many solve the problem of potty breaks with those infamous yellow jugs, and other shenanigans. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility at all – I mean, heck, you gotta look at maps and directions, and it’s not always convenient or safe to pull over.

Still it’s distressing to see bad habits migrating up from the four-wheeler level to the elevated heights of big-rigdom. It gives us less room to talk when boasting of our professionalism and criticizing the driving of our smaller neighbors.