Commentary: The Delicate Truck Driver

February 2017, - Editorial

by Rolf Lockwood

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Rolf Lockwood
Rolf Lockwood

My mandate with this column has me writing about technology most of the time, but I have a soft spot for drivers and owner-operators, so please bear with me. I think the folks at the sharp end of the trucking stick deserve a little attention, a little understanding.

Now, ‘delicate’ is not a word you’d ever think of using to describe them. Rough, tough, maybe. But delicate?


The word may be a bit extreme, but lots of drivers manage a very fine balance between simple frustration and outright anger. The truth is, slipping over what really is a delicate line is easy, and getting easier every day. Deeper traffic jams, more demanding shippers, endless rules and regs managed by bureaucrats who really don’t seem to understand much or give a darn.

The potential for boiling over is very, very high. And the consequences? Downright nasty sometimes, almost never good.

The recent rash of snowy-road pileups got me thinking about the case of a driver I’ve known for a long time and some trouble he encountered more than a decade ago. My friend is a good guy, a third-generation trucking veteran who’s willing and able to work hard, the kind of fellow who can make repairs on the roadside and who still stops to help another driver in distress. All of that said, he admits to having the occasional problem managing his anger.

So leading up to a tragic event 12 years back that obliterated the delicate psychological balance that he usually managed to maintain, he’d had a rough couple of weeks. Dispatch had been on his case and he’d been on theirs, the classic source of driver frustration. As he put it at the time, he “was already bent out of shape.”

And then one night he came on a bad wreck. A woman and her baby daughter were nailed by a hit-and-run drunk and he was first on the scene. It was chaos, of course, and the little girl was dead. The other details don’t matter, except that a few hours later, he loses it.

In the yard at the end of his run, he had a meltdown. All the anger and frustration of the previous weeks came out in one big explosion. He’d seen countless bad accidents over his many driving years, but this one got him. He went AWOL for the next two weeks.

When he got back he wrote to tell me this sad tale, at which point he figured he’d lost his job for sure. Didn’t think the boss would even speak to him. But the next morning he met the guy and, to his great surprise, found enough sympathy and understanding that all he lost was top spot on the load board. He was pretty grateful.

He got back to emotional equilibrium because of a generous boss, the strong support of his wife, and several long bull sessions with his trucker chums.

I think the trucking community at large has to recognize the unique pressures that drivers face and accommodate them. We don’t have the same community we once had, but step number one is to recognize that drivers are human, that they can only take so much.


  1. 1. Michael Rector [ February 15, 2017 @ 04:43AM ]

    Based on the headline, this was not the story I expected to read. In my case, most of my frustration has to do with other people wasting my time and money.

    I run imported container freight out of the ports in Charleston, SC. The chassis I use are owned by the steamship lines and maintained by the ILA Union. It is not uncommon to be assigned one with missing or non-working lights and flat tires.

    While I carry replacement lights and a hose to pump up tires, the ILA will not even allow me to change a bulb or air up a tire inside the port. So, I have to wait in line for an hour or more to have the ILA folks to repair my issues or pull the chassis away from the port and make the repairs myself. Either way, I lose time off of my HOS.

    Thanks for your story,
    Michael Rector

  2. 2. Ed Posey [ February 15, 2017 @ 05:31AM ]

    Hats off to Mr. Lockwood for this article. Working in management it is easy to only focus on getting the load delivered. When hiring drivers I make it a point to find out about their families etc. and always be attentive to their concerns and problems. Even when they call in with a problem take time at the beginning to let them know you ACTUALLY care. You are correct sir, most people do not undeerstand the pressure the driver is under at work as well as at home. They are great humans that make our country a better place for their hard work.

  3. 3. Karol Smith [ February 15, 2017 @ 08:29AM ]

    Thank you for highlighting what I have been trying to bring to our fleets attention. This article is spot on. I am the Directory of Safety for an Intermodal Trucking company out of Mpls St Paul and see many of these issues between our drivers, contractors and dispatch. Delicate was the perfect word to use and hits the nail on the head for every trucker out there fighting thru the current demands of equipment issues, distracted drivers, heavy traffic, non-understanding forwarders and consignees and dispatchers trying to move freight. A huge thank you to all the professional drivers out there doing it right and keeping it together while you are operating.

  4. 4. Rod Hannifey [ February 18, 2017 @ 04:51PM ]

    Goodaye Rolf, I write for an Australian trucking magazine and have just written my next column citing the same issues, but touching on the severe end of that spectrum, those who get to the point of suicide. Two truckie mates had their marriages dissolve after many years and if you add this stress to the list you have all ready mentioned, it is not hard to see it can all go badly. Who can your drivers then turn to for help? I do fear too many who use our services simply do not care about the truckdrivers and do not see us as people like themselves. I would welcome your reply. Thanks Rod.

  5. 5. BarbRRB [ February 20, 2017 @ 08:31AM ]

    Awesome article Mr. Lockwood.
    Delicate is correct.

  6. 6. Ken Gillies [ February 20, 2017 @ 08:59AM ]

    Well Said!
    I'm continually amazed by the patience displayed by drivers of every sort of commercial truck - especially tractor/trailer combinations. The general low level of consideration given by "four wheelers" for trucks is certainly a high challenge - I applaud the drivers - and those companies that take the time to truly care about and train their drivers - for a job well done. Its really rare that I see a truck (driver) make a move on the road that's questionable - I only need to be on the road an hour to see a car or SUV commit and OOPS!


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