- Associated Press - Sunday, February 9, 2014

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - Larry Walker was stuck in Williston for 14 days recently due to inclement weather conditions. He was in town because he was driving a truck through with the intent of making his delivery and then going on his way.

But now, with his Full Tilt truck safely wedged in the Wal-Mart parking lot, he has found a temporary home.

“This is the coldest weather I’ve ever felt,” said Walker, who is a veteran truck driver of 15 years and has been to nearly every mainland state in the country.

In the mad rush of the oil boom, truck drivers have become a staple of the area. They need to be here - to deliver the heavy equipment and chemicals needed to sustain the oilfield that keep the oil coming.

Truck drivers spend up to 14 hours a day driving and battling severe road conditions as well as other vehicles on the road. They have to drive defensively for everyone - for themselves, as well as for the travelers who do not heed the trucks’ greater mass or understand their responsibility.

“Our biggest concern is other drivers. They cut us off, they’ll pull in front of us on a hill and slow down, and that’s dangerous for other drivers behind us that are coming up that hill,” Ben Watson of Gemini Trucking told the Williston Herald (https://bit.ly/1k3YCI6). “Once we’re downshift on a hill, we can’t get that speed back up, so if we were doing 65 and they slow us down to 30 miles per hour, we’re stuck at 30. You got cars coming up behind you doing 65 to 70 miles per hour.”

Watson said truck drivers - the good ones, anyway - are always alert and always looking out for the safety of everyone on the road.

“It’s like when you drive a car,” he said. “You’re always looking in your mirrors, checking your driving … in a big truck, you just have to be a little more defensive. We have to pay attention quite a bit more in every direction. Our heads are always moving. People don’t realize that our heads are moving every eight to 10 seconds, looking in mirrors, looking left, looking right and looking ahead of us.”

Sometimes, the stories are too specific to be used as cautionary tales. Donald Krout of Purity Oil Services said peoples’ erratic driving is becoming “more frequent.”

He recounted a tale of his own: “One time I was out on location and another hotshot driver jumped out of his vehicle. He was right up behind me. I asked him to move up a little bit so I could park and unload. He said I’ll only be a minute. He jumped off and went into the shack. He’d never even put his vehicle in park. I turned around and looked and here’s his vehicle rolling at me. I almost got pinned in there.”

One sentiment echoed by all three was that drivers sometimes have “no respect” for them on the roads.

“One of the most dangerous things you see is texting and driving,” Walker said. “I hate to see people out on the road, got one hand on the wheel and the other hand on their phone, and they ain’t looking where they’re going - they’re looking at their phones.”

The wintry roads, covered in ice, often pose a problem when drivers fail to realize the limitations set for them.

“The most problems we have, when we got those icy roads, people will blow right by me,” Watson said. “They have to pass six cars, because I have six cars behind me. Then they lose control. Some cars lose control in front of me - I’m going five miles an hour, so the most damage I can do is minimal.”

Walker recalled statistics that said somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 percent of car and truck collisions result in fatalities - on the side of the cars’ drivers.

“The fatality rate for truck drivers is only about 4 percent. So if I run you over with my car, I have to live with that for the rest of my life,” Walker said. “Whether it was my fault, or your fault, or nobody’s fault - that’s harsh.”

Reassuringly, Watson said that most of the time, people are not so bad about dealing with trucks on the road.

“In general, people are pretty conscious of truck drivers,” Watson said. “They give them their berth. About 90 percent of the time, most people are very conscious. They try to give (trucks) the space they need. When I’m coming, everybody gets over.”

“About the only thing you can do is be on the constant vigil,” Krout said. “You’ve got to drive for yourself as much as everyone else.”


Information from: Williston Herald, https://www.willistonherald.com

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