Safety

A heavy load to bear

I gripped the steering wheel of the massive vehicle, checked all of my mirrors, and slowly pulled onto the road, driving as carefully as possible to make sure my precious cargo stayed safe from harm.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a yellow school bus that I was operating this day. It was a big, white moving truck. It wasn’t filled with 80 or so rambunctious children, but this nerve-racking experience bolstered my respect for what your school bus drivers do each school day.

On this occasion, an overcast afternoon in late June, I was hauling all of my family’s belongings as we relocated from one Southern California town to another.

My route took me through the Santa Monica Mountains via the Sepulveda Pass, which is notorious for its traffic congestion. The trip wasn’t too long in distance — about 40 miles — but it seemed to drag on for hours.

Here’s how it went.

Report from the road

  • When I wasn’t stuck in traffic — so, moving at a moderate speed — just keeping the truck within one lane of the freeway required great focus. There was very little room between the sides of the truck and the lane lines, and the steering on this fully loaded vessel was less than ideal.

  • Southern California freeways are often rough and full of hazards. For example, on a recent drive to work, a stray traffic cone tumbled out from under the car in front of me and then got lodged under my car, forcing me to pull over and wrestle it out.

    I didn’t encounter any cones with the truck, but when I came to any slightly uneven surface, the cab bounced like a ball. I felt weightlessness several times, with only my seat belt and white knuckles on the steering wheel keeping me from launching into the ceiling. (That may be a slight exaggeration.)

  • The freeway speed limit is widely considered a suggestion — and a suggestion that is widely ignored. This becomes abundantly clear when driving a large vehicle below the posted limit. Even in one of the “slow lanes” toward the right side of the freeway, cars were zooming by me on both sides, often cutting right in front of me.

  • Maintaining a sizable following distance was crucial with such a heavy load. The traffic would often unexpectedly change from flowing quickly to near-standstill. But, just as nature abhors a vacuum, many motorists seem bent on swerving into any opening they can find.

    Eye-opening experience
    Despite all the anxiety of the moving truck trip, as I pulled off the freeway onto the exit toward our new home, I couldn’t help but let out a few enthusiastic yells. As I waited at a stop light, I turned to look at the car next to me, half-expecting the driver to break into applause. “Can you believe what I just did?” I asked, in my head. (Alas, he gave no acknowledgement.)

    Then I really felt accomplished when I opened the truck and found that nothing was broken.

    So I can imagine the fulfillment school bus drivers — really, everyone involved in your pupil transportation operations — must feel at the end of the day, after every student has been delivered safe and sound.

    Normally, I drive a relatively small station wagon, sometimes with two screaming kids in the back, and that’s about all I can handle.

    I just hope we don’t decide to move again anytime soon.

  • Thomas McMahon Executive Editor
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