Have you ever noticed police cars pulling over 18-wheelers on the side of the road? Seems strange somehow. I once took a class where I had to travel about 45 miles each day and you get to observe a lot on those trips. On my way back home, there was always this one area where the traffic slowed down to about 10 miles under the speed limit. This was because we all pretty much knew there would be at least two police cars ahead trolling the area.
Sometimes I would forget and be zipping down the fast lane lickety-split. Then, I’d find myself so surprised to have one of the patrolmen pass me without even blinking in my direction. Oddly, I only ever saw them pull over the big rigs. I’ve always thought cops had a sort of professional courtesy thing going on with truck drivers. Truckers usually have a heavy load and a long haul. It takes a lot of engine and torque to pull that weight and get up to speed, and with all that momentum going on, it takes a lot to stop the vehicle. But strangely enough, hardly a day went by that I didn’t see a cop with a trucker pulled over on that five-mile stretch of interstate.
Curiosity finally won out and I decided to do a little digging. I was fortunate to know two great sources kind enough to enlighten me. One, a former deputy chief of police and the other, a truck driver and former jailor, and these guys were able to give me the scoop from two different perspectives.
Cop Shop Talk or My Way or the Highway
First, I spoke to my former deputy chief friend, who retired recently after a long and illustrious career with a local police department. As it turns out, there is no special courtesy extended to truckers. However, they are expected to be better drivers than non-commercial drivers, and that expectation is always there, regardless of whether or not they are on the job. Sounds harsh, but it’s true. This is because commercial drivers are more highly regulated and a hit to their personal license impacts their commercial license as well.
Calling Adam 12?
Also, I was totally off-base about these being regular patrol cars pulling these drivers over. In our state, truckers are pulled over for violations or safety checks by one of two types of patrols. The State Highway Patrol can pull them over, or the local police department may have a special Commercial Vehicle Patrol just for this purpose. Which totally explains why my inadvertent lead foot was overlooked.
It’s all about that Base
One of the reasons a trucker is pulled over is for a Safety Check. These are important for a lot of reasons and commercial drivers are heavily regulated. These patrols carry special portable scales that measure the weight of the vehicle, and if it’s over the weight limit, they can lose stability, causing them to lose control and endanger the public. Being overweight can also tear up the road, making driving conditions more hazardous for the rest of us. What I found interesting is, if the truck is determined to be overweight, the driver can’t continue his journey and has to call for someone to come help him offload until his weight is brought down within limits. Don’t you sometimes wish you could call a friend to come help you offload some weight? Sounds pretty appealing to me. However, for the trucker who tries to push his luck, it only causes costly delays.
If You Broke It, You Bought It
Other things these truckers get cited on include: unauthorized cargo, hauling hazardous cargo on a road they shouldn’t use or exceeding the number of allowable driving hours. The Department of Transportation dictates how many hours they can drive per day and sometimes unethical drivers will attempt to keep two sets of books – one they show the trooper and another they keep for billing. Or, since they pay for their own fuel, they may attempt to shave miles off their trip and take a shortcut driving down roads they shouldn’t. Bad behavior for these drivers can result in tickets, fines, losing their license or having to wait for hazmat folks to be brought in and thus experience trip delays. There is actually a national database now, so if you lose your commercial license in one state you can’t get it in any other. However, my sources tell me that most are law abiding and just trying to make a living, although there are a few out there who try to cut corners.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2 – A Trucker’s View