Our 10 Week Series Continues Traveling from Corbin, KY to Newport, TN

Before being replaced by the Cumberland Gap Tunnel and hiking trails, the 3.2 mile stretch of US 25E that crossed the Kentucky/Tennessee border was referred to as “Massacre Mountain.” This unforgiving section of the route was responsible for an average of five accident related deaths a year.  Hundreds of millions of dollars and over a decade-and-a-half later, federally funded construction has made those few miles more manageable. Unfortunately, this has led to complacency among drivers of both trucks and passenger vehicles when traveling this section of the route. Further safety improvements were done on other parts of 25E, and while not nearly as dangerous as it was 20 years ago, the route is still full of twisted hazards.

There are plenty of tight curves and hairpin turns all the way through the 114 mile US 25E route. Complacency on the part of operations, drivers, or safety departments can still lead to rollovers and other crashes — which can be avoided with proper planning, training, and driver behavior.

Operations

Most operations departments remain reactive. As soon as the load information goes to the driver, Operations feels that the load is now the driver’s responsibility. Remember the driver that I told you about who described 25E as being “crooked as a snake?” Well those twists and turns along the route add more time to transit, which puts operations performance metrics under pressure.

For operations departments, this goes back to planning.  We know how easy it can be to get stressed out from the previous driver coming in late. That pressure can be alleviated by having Dispatch reschedule drop-off.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are daily obstacles to getting the load delivered as planned. A manufacturing customer can be one skid short of completing the load. I‘ve heard stories of drivers waiting for that last skid to come off of the assembly line – YES,  literally waiting at the end of an assembly line. This can make your scheduled delivery time a mathematical impossibility. Even though you have other situations to deal with, it’s up to Dispatch to not unduly pressure the driver. This is especially important when dealing with the potentially fatal hairpins up and down 25E. If the delivery time is an impossibility, adjust it for the driver, don’t wait and further pile up the issues that have to be dealt with when the driver calls in late.

Drivers

We mentioned complacency earlier. For the driver, it’s so important to not get too comfortable. Remember, the 72 hours after you get back from vacation and your last run of the week are the most dangerous time for drivers. Routes like 25E can be deceptive. It can be smooth sailing for miles and then all of a sudden you’re running down a steep hill with a tight turn that you didn’t see coming. Stay alert, or take a break.

This is going to sound like simple advice, but it might just be life saving information: pay attention to the signs. When you see that curvy arrow on the yellow diamond, take notice. This is two-hands-on-the-wheel time. A great way to stay engaged is to vocalize your driving. Say the speed limit out loud to make it register more for yourself. Say things like “this is a 35 mph curve and I’m doing 40, I need to be down to 30.”

As for technique, you have been trained how to handle turns like these. Managing tight corners is something you have done many times before, just not so many times in a row. Remember, when negotiating around a tight spot, bring the nose of your truck closer to the high side of the curve. Not only will this help you maintain torque, it will also give you allowance for off-tracking and help you maintain your lane.

Take it at your own speed and don’t worry about the car stuck behind you – they can wait. Focus on being the professional driver you are, not your delivery time or whether someone is passing you.

Safety

So many challenges can be mitigated by creating a culture of safety, and managing routes with tight curves and turns is one of them. Proper training is not just about driver technique, it’s also about driver mentality and attitude. We don’t want to create rules as much as we want to create beliefs. Our first job is to make sure our drivers arrive alive – getting there on time is a bonus. They have a better chance of doing that if we can teach them to check their egos before they hop in the rig. We want to help them respect the dangers that lie in front of them on routes like 25E.

Next week we look at the specific challenges associated with uncontrolled access to road and highways. We will examine how Operations, Safety and Drivers need to be aware of Uncontrolled Access Routes when planning and running the route! Let us know what you think about the series in the comments below, and keep tuning in every Wednesday.