I spend the majority of my time driving down the highway and byways of our beautiful county. I have seen almost everything imaginable and unimaginable. I have also seen a lot I wish I hadn’t. I have logged more than 2 million miles in my professional career. I have been very lucky. Lucky in that I have never had the misfortune of being involved in a major accident. I have been rear ended a few times and had a few minor fender benders that could have turned out much worse. Thank God none were pinned to me or my driving record.
Because of my clean driving record I have received bonuses over the years for 1.5 million safe miles behind the wheel. I would have received my 2 million mile bonus had I not quit and taken some time off last year. More than the bonuses for safe driving, I take pride in the fact I have never been in a major accident or caused one while driving professionally.
The men who trained me gave so much good advice and instructions that have stuck with me through the years. These guys were veteran drivers with many, many years of experience. I put their wisdom to work every time I climb into the driver’s seat.
I was lucky to learn how to drive in the dead of winter. My first trip out with my first train was the first week of January with snow and ice in the forecast. It gave me confidence knowing the guy was right there beside me to guide me and share his knowledge. (A huge shout out to “Popeye” and “Billy.”)
I have been through every major city east of the Mississippi and several west of it. I’ve been in every state east of the Mississippi and at least ten on the other side. I have drove through metropolitan areas with 16 lanes of traffic. I have been down roads barely wide enough for my truck, let alone anyone coming the other direction. I have been down a few gravel roads that made me wonder if I was going to make it to my destination or not.
No matter what type of road or where it was I have had the displeasure of seeing traffic accidents and other horrible traffic related events. I witnessed the aftermath of a suicide jumper from an overpass in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The distraught woman jumped into one of the busiest stretches of interstate in North American. Also in Toronto, I dodged actual body parts from a wreck before emergency vehicles arrived on the scene. In Nashville, Tennessee I witnessed a van hydroplane directly in front of me and slam the center wall. After the accident I couldn’t determine if the victim was a man or women. In Indianapolis, Indiana I watched a car traveling the opposite directed slam the center wall at a high rate of speed. The male driver was ejected from the vehicle into the traffic lanes on the other side. I have had to come to terms with a fellow company driver who was killed in a horrific crash. Fire consumed his entire body, leaving nothing but a boot. I could go on and on about the tragedies I have witnessed.
The highways are not a safe place to be on a daily basis. Between the speed junkies, hell bent on getting to their destinations without any regard for their fellow commuters or themselves, worn out truck drivers being pushed beyond their limits by their dispatchers to the drivers that drive too slow for the flow of traffic (yes, not moving with the flow of traffic is very dangerous) the road is a not a safe place to be.
I read an article that claimed there are about 2 million trucks on America’s highways. That means at least 2 millions drivers as well. I know that we, as a group of hard working individuals shrank by at least one this week. I know because I sat for over an hour in a traffic back up in Ohio due to a horrific accident that took the life of a fellow professional driver. Sigh.
No matter how many of us there are, no matter if we knew this driver personally or not, it hurts. We have a casual brotherhood between us. Of course there are the exceptions to the rule that don’t care about anything except getting down the road uninterrupted or care about the loss. Even I was guilty about being upset about the delay until I found out the reason.
As I pulled up to the scene it really hit home. This was the loss of a human life. It was the loss of a “brother”, father, son, uncle or nephew. It was the loss of a friend. It made me wonder what he was thinking about just minutes before it happened. Was he able to tell his family he loved them? It made me think about the last time I told my own family I loved them.
Driving past the accident scene brought so many questions to mind about my own life. It is never easy to witness a scene like that. It sure makes it hard to climb up the steps of my truck every day. Some say truck driving is the most dangerous profession. A friend said by the amount of miles I drive up and down the highways the odds are definitely against me and all other drivers.
Even if you don’t drive professionally, please be careful on the road. Put down your phone and pay attention. Wait to put on makeup. Always keep your eyes on the road, not on your iPod or laptop. Buy the audiobook. If you don’t want to be responsible behind the wheel, I hope you have told all your family you love them because you never think it is your time until it is too late.
-Michael Collard is one of my life-long friends. We cruised many back roads in his vintage ‘70 Mustang “back in the day.” Professionally, he has driven a truck over-the-road for as long as I can remember. Too many long roads have given him time to overthink everything and hone his outspoken, independent, hell-bent attitude. With a little coaxing I convinced him to share some of his writing with me to publish here. When not on the road he spends a lot of weekends spoiling his six grandkids and anxiously awaiting the arrival of the seventh.