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Truck Topics

When Truckers Police The Roads

By Paul Ruffin
Posted Jun 7th 2002 4:00AM

everything1018a.jpgThe following articles are reprinted with the kind permission of the author.

Well, the family took a long weekend over to the Mississippi Coast [in late July]; in spite of some eight slowdowns for road construction in three states, we made it in just over seven hours, not much longer than it takes us to make the trip on a Sunday, when there is no road work. What made a potentially long and irritating trip so smooth and quick was the imposition of trucker law on the interstate, and it worked incredibly well.

I've written before about zippers, the little cretins who rush up past everyone who's trying to blend for lane closures — past the decent people, you know, who begin “queuing up,” as the British put it, as soon as the flashing lights advise which lane will be closed — creating something near panic where the barrels begin to taper and force one-lane traffic.

They rush up and muscle in, knowing full well that they'll always find someone they can intimidate or someone who's just neighborly enough to cut these aggressive airheads some slack.

So, instead of traffic blending in orderly fashion over a five-mile stretch and slowing to maybe 45 mph, you have the whole line of vehicles stopping, then inching forward, then stopping again as the little anarchists force an entry. They are usually young white males in sleek sports cars (though occasionally you'll see a girl at the wheel), and there is a nice hot corner of hell waiting just for them — got a sign hanging up there, “Zippers Enter Here.”

Folks, the zippers had a bad day Thursday. Uh-huh. I don't know how they organized it so well, but the truckers ran the show at every work site, and motorists blended into line and moved at a reasonable 40 to 50 mph, the way they would anyway if everyone behaved himself.

I don't know what truckers call the maneuver, but here's the way it works, the best I can tell: When they see the first sign warning of work ahead, they begin radioing each other to set things up. After passing the first lane-closure sign, they give motorists a reasonable length of time to blend, then one of them will drift over into the lane that will be closed and stay neck-in-neck with a truck in the other lane.

The pinheads eager to zip up and break in line finally realize after a few hundred yards they are not going to be able to get past and hog in, so they reluctantly drop back and fall into line. They can't get past the blocking truck, since he stays even with the truck in the other lane, so they have to stay in position and behave themselves.

If one does manage to get by — and sometimes he'll take the shoulder to do it — a trucker up ahead will be watching and move over and block him again, sometimes slowing down until he has the guy trapped between his truck and the blocking truck behind — oh, it's lovely to behold.

Often you'll see five or six blocking trucks in a long line of traffic. When the blocking truck gets to the barrels, the truck paralleling him in the other lane slows down and lets him in, so he loses no time as blocker.

Hey, you're saying, doesn't this create road rage? Why, hell yes it does, but the people enraged are the tiny minority who enrage and endanger the safety of everyone else, “so let them honk they horns and gnash and grind they teef” — but they are going to go with the flow, the way they are supposed to.

I haven't seen one yet bold enough to park his little sports car and jump up on a trucker's running board and try to pick a fight or use his little XZL4000 to bully an 18-wheeler.

No, sir and no, ma'am — they don't like it, but they fall into line and move in orderly fashion, and everybody gets through at a reasonable speed and without the risk of collision. (Aw, some of them get mad enough to cross over to a service road and try to race up and feed on ahead, but this rarely works.

There are places in Louisiana where you can go a long way without seeing a service road. You'll usually see them stacked up, waiting to get back on the interstate as you move merrily along at 45 mph. The whole family finds this wonderfully amusing. You must always smile and wave at them as they pound the steering wheel and fume.)

I don't know how highway patrolmen feel about what these truckers are doing, and I don't know or care whether they are legal, but I'll tell you that the vast majority of motorists out there on our interstates certainly appreciate their efforts to maintain order where a small percentage of imbeciles don't mind causing chaos.

The next time you see truckers working the highway like this, give them a thumbs up as you pass them later, or have the kids applaud. Let them know how grateful you are for the job they are doing to ensure a safe trip for everyone.

Editor's note: Paul Ruffin writes a regular column for the Huntsville Item. He is a professor of English at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX.

There ought to be a law”— there is.

Truckers aren't the only ones policing the work zones. A few states have started regulating driving behavior while merging in these construction areas.

In 1999, Indiana passed a law making it illegal to pass another vehicle on the highway after the first construction zone sign warns them to merge from one lane into another.

Missouri passed a similar law this year, making it a Class C misdemeanor to pass in these work zones. Violators could pay up to a $250 fine.

A Trucker Testifies About “Zippers”

Back a few weeks ago I wrote a column titled “When Truckers Police the Road,” in which I described a tactic employed by truckers these days to ensure orderly conduct by drivers approaching work sites on our interstates.

When motorists are warned of a lane closure ahead, truckers give them a reasonable length of time to blend into a single lane, then one moves over into the lane to be closed and plays the role of “blocker truck,” with two of these big boys side by side, so those little cretins I call zippers don't rush up past the line of drivers who are behaving themselves and try to break in just before the barrels force traffic down to one lane.

Instead of the stop-and-inch movement you get when zippers are allowed to whiz up and bully in, these truckers force an orderly fusion of vehicles into a single line that moves merrily along at the posted speed, usually 45 mph.

Well, I've had all sorts of e-mails and notes about that piece, mostly from ordinary drivers like me who hate zippers with a passion. But the most flattering response came from Todd Spencer, vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, with more than 71,000 members nationwide, who said he and his organization appreciated my compliments on the job truckers are doing out there on the interstate to facilitate the orderly flow of traffic at work sites.

He posted the column on their web site and ran it in the October issue of Land Line, OOIDA's official magazine. Furthermore, he put me in touch with one of the members, David Tennessen, of Arlington, TX, so I could get a trucker's perspective on zippers.

David was eager enough to discuss his opinion of these little road hazards. “As a professional driver, my wife and I see these idiots every day at construction sites."

"Construction sites on our highways are part of our way of life to keep America moving by improving our roads.”

He went on. “What makes these sites a problem are these fools who think it's fine to run up and try to get around everyone else. I feel they cause at least a 70 to 80 percent increase in delays. We've seen them cause accidents with other vehicles, hit parked construction vehicles, as well as equipment and workers. I've even seen them hit police cars. Guess how much time that adds to your delay?”

One of the questions I put to him was what would happen if one of them got angry enough to confront the driver of a blocker truck.

“I have never seen one foolish enough to confront a trucker,” he said, “because if they did, they'd have every trucker in both directions stop to hold the little pest for the police.”

Another question: What is the state troopers' attitude toward truckers doing what the troopers themselves just don't have the resources to do?

David: “I have never heard of DPS (Department of Public Safety) being upset with our blocking because it improves safety and traffic flow in the work site. The blocking works because it's done as a professional courtesy to one another. After all, who has less time to lose than a professional truckdriver trying to make a delivery to keep America moving, whether it's food for stores, equipment for another construction site, or a product for that new baby?”

By the way, I did receive a note advising me that one Paul DeMars of Holiday, FL, got a $100 ticket for blocking. I have not been able to get details from him.

David explained the blocking technique this way: “Blocking is controlled by talking to each other throughout the approach to the work zone. We have all (professional drivers) been there and know how it works. As you pointed out, and saw first hand, it helps and improves safety and traffic flow.”

When I asked him to profile the zipper, since he is infinitely more familiar with them than the average motorist would be, David agreed with me they are generally “young white males in sleek sports cars (though occasionally you'll see a girl at the wheel).” He added that “these same idiots will try it with their wife and kids in their minivan or SUV.”

One question I neglected to ask him was what percentage of male zippers wear their baseball caps backwards. My experience suggests it is pretty high.

According to David, the best deterrent to the problem posed by zippers would be for state legislatures to pass laws making it illegal for anyone to remain in the lane under closure past the second “merge now” arrow. He suggested a $1,000 fine, “with half going to the State Highway Fund and half to the Federal Highway Trust Fund for road repairs.” (Indiana and Missouri already have such laws in place; Missouri treats it as a Class C misdemeanor, with a fine up to $250.)

“After all, how many people want to spend big bucks for that 100 feet they might get ahead!” says David. He concluded by saying, “What I am sorry to see is it usually takes the … death of a worker or trooper to get the attention of lawmakers.”

Well, eventually we may see the fear of heavy traffic fines forcing zippers to conduct themselves properly on our interstates, but I am no more hopeful than David Tennessen about when that will happen. Meanwhile, I suggest we leave it to truckers to help police traffic at the work sites.

They seem to be saying to the zippers: “If you don't have enough self-control to behave yourselves and drive safely on our interstates, we'll do the good old American thing and just pitch in and help you children out.”

They're doing a hell of a fine job. Right on, truckers!

Paul Ruffin may be reached c/o English Department, Box 2146, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, 77341-2146, e-mail:

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