2nd Detailed Piece in Our 10 Week Series Traveling from Corbin, KY to Newport, TN
The most notable characteristic of an uncontrolled, divided road is that people can’t see you coming around corners and you can’t see them. This is not an ideal situation for big rigs, and US 25E is a prime example.
Uncontrolled highways present specific challenges to each department in your organization, and it is important that Operations, Drivers and Safety work in conjunction with one another to manage the dangers of these routes.
On divided roads with frequent access from cross traffic and side roads, we can’t apply a cookie-cutter approach that covers every driver on the route. An important question to ask before handing the load off to the driver is when is the truck launching?
A rig running on an uncontrolled divided road is going to face different challenges depending on the time of day it travels. A driver traveling the route from midnight to 3 AM will not have as much traffic to deal with as one that is trekking through the mountains at rush hour. However, their road visibility will be much different. How do these factors affect the amount of time you should schedule for the run?
There are other questions to ask, as well: What time do the snow plows come out? Which areas of the route are poorly lit causing more effort on the part of night-time drivers? These factors impact delivery times, and each of them should be factored and calculated. Think of your drivers and loads on a case-by-case basis instead of just a blanket expectation.
I have heard drivers compare uncontrolled divided routes to the Wild West. No matter how many times you have made this trip, you never really know what to expect. Obstacles like new construction, unexplainable mid-afternoon traffic and D.O.T traps can pop up anywhere. These are things that are going to throw you for a loop, so be prepared to adjust and look for options – both on the road and in planning your trip.
We have talked about it before in this series, but with uncontrolled divided routes complacency once again rears its ugly head. There are two words to keep in mind here: Situational Awareness.
You need to be careful to not get what I call “bowling ball head.” Keep your spine straight and and your mirrors in check. Don’t act like your head is bolted to your shoulders.
Complacency is a broad term, so let’s drill down to what it means when rolling on roads like 25E. Your biggest enemy is “white line fever.” Even the greenest drivers will know what I am talking about here. It is that state of near hypnotism where your focal point diminishes to a small target area. Stay Alert! Expect the craziest scenario possible to be waiting for you around that next blind corner.
When a driver calls, stop what you are doing and listen. If a driver is calling you, then they are obviously concerned for their safety. It’s our job to make sure that they are safe, at ease, and handling the route professionally. Try to work things like target fixation into the conversation. When the driver hangs up the phone, he should be refocused and in the right state of mind to complete the trip safely.
One thing that safety departments should be doubling down on with drivers on uncontrolled access divided roads is the Escape Plan. Good drivers always have an escape plan, but this type of driving scenario presents a never ending variety of situations that each require a different type of escape plan. If a four-wheeler spins out or misses an exit or runs a red light right in front of you, what is the plan? Where can you take your big rig in an emergency and survive?
Your drivers should also be trained to understand that if they are heading for a ditch then they should aim for the bottom of that ditch. It’s about keeping the rig straight and upright. Teach your drivers to think about safety first, and roads like US 25E are the perfect training tool for that. Instill in their minds the idea that a tow truck is always cheaper than a funeral. I tell my drivers, “I like your family – a lot! And if we lose you out there, that is not a phone call I want to make.”
Uncontrolled divided highways present a lot of challenges. That is why customers hire professional carriers to get the job done. But no delivery is worth the price of a driver’s life. Treat every trip and every driver as an individual challenge on uncontrolled, divided roads. Operations needs to consider the unseen and the unexpected. Drivers need to bring their A Game when it comes to focus. Safety needs to be there to answer the driver’s call when they need help.
Next week we are looking at the specific challenges associated with in town and highway transitions. We will examine how Operations, Safety and Drivers need to be aware of Transitions when planning and running the route. It’s a lot more than speed limit changes! Let us know what you think about the series in the comments below, and keep tuning in every Wednesday.