Detours: Legal Size & Weight

“You’re going the wrong way!”. Remember that scene from the 1987 movie Planes, Trains & Automobiles? How did strange people in another car know which way Steve Martin and John Candy were supposed to be driving? The problem in real life, especially in trucking, is the driver always needs to know the way he is supposed to be going. To drive a truck down the wrong road can have dire consequences, financially and environmentally. So what happens when a trucker is going along thinking he is too sexy for his shirt and then, BAM! Out of nowhere there is a detour that wasn’t supposed to be there? What is a driver to do?

The internet has given truckers new tools to recognize and plan for detours. Highway department officials will post road closures and restrictions on their websites. These postings are only as good as the humans who accurately post the information, and the drivers who actually check for it. Unfortunately, no matter how thorough a driver may be in seeking out all the information possible before moving, detours crop up.

Sometimes there is temporary detour due to a water main break or streetlight repair. Other times there are temporary detours due to a traffic crash and there police officers out there directing traffic. Either way, the detour will now force a trucker off the planned route and into unknown waters.

Here are some tips:

Look and listen ahead Even though CB radios are slowly disappearing from modern trucking, they are still a great tool. Truckers should be listening if they have them. Other truckers ahead will radio out temporary detours. A trucker is typically sitting higher than most traffic and can see over cars. If an emergency scene is up ahead, plan accordingly before arriving at the scene.

Pull over before the scene If it looks like traffic is being diverted onto an unfamiliar road, find a safe place to stop before reaching the chaotic scene. Make sure the place chosen does not create more traffic problems.

Make a phone call Once safely pulled over, a trucker may now use phone. Call the correct highway authority and explain the problem. Or maybe call the local police department and ask them what to do. Better to obtain clearance rather than gambling on an unfamiliar route.

Don’t engage a police officer directing traffic Directing traffic may seem like a menial job for police officers, but it is a dynamic and often dangerous assignment. Dozens of police officers are killed nationwide each year waving their arms. It is a highly frustrating task when people don’t follow directions, are speeding or talking on phones. Directing traffic brings out the very worst personality traits of a police officer. A trucker will not find much sympathy if he believes his problem is more important than the police officer’s problem.

Don’t assume a police officer has any idea about the size and weight of your vehicle(s) The average police officer knows as much about trucks as the average motorist. In an emergency situation when a police officer has to divert traffic, the potential disaster of sending the wrong truck down the wrong road is not of great concern. He is not concerned that a truck might be oversize or overweight simply by turning off the correct route. He has a problem to solve…traffic congestion. When he sees wheels and pavement, a solution presents itself.

Don’t disobey the police officer Given the above paragraph, there is a chance a trucker might might know more about truck law than the common police officer. However, this does not give a trucker the green-light to disobey the officer just because he knows better. Always follow the orders of the police officer, until…

After following the detour, pull over A police officer who unwittingly diverts a trucker down a road the truck should not be operating upon cannot be immediately stopped and cited. That is textbook entrapment. An order given under the color of law is lawful. It might not be the best order ever given, but it must still be obeyed. Make the turn as instructed, and pull over to a safe place as soon as possible. Then make the necessary phone calls.

These tips should help any legal weight and/or legal size truck driver who encounters a temporary detour. Tune in next week to learn about temporary detours and oversize/overweight permit loads.


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