Truck Driving – A View From the Cab
Part–One of Four
Hello, I’m John Covington, and this is my view of the world of the road from my cab, and you’re going to be my guest for the next few minutes. So, just sit there and belt up! Safety wise that is, of course.
Before we start, yes I know they can be a seeming nuisance. You want to get on and there you are stuck behind a 40–tonner doing less than 50–miles an hour. We’ve all been there, but have you ever been with a driver in the cab? Have you seen things from the truck driver’s perspective, which is very different to that of being down there in a car?
I have been a truck driver for 30–years
I’m fortunate. I’ve had the very real pleasure of driving these things for the last 30–odd years, albeit mainly as a weekend hobby, so come and join me now for a view from the cab of my 44–tonne Renault 420–horse 12–speed auto.
You can find me in this most weekends, hauling out of Hull Docks carrying the large paper reels to feed the printing presses that produce your magazines and newspapers. Typically we’ll be weighing in at around 43–tonnes gross weight and measuring 54–feet long.
It’s both stacks blowing flame, smoke black as coal, and the hammer’s down……… Ah! ………the Americans and their truck folklore. Pity it’s not like that over here in the UK, the folklore that is, not the smoke!
Trucks are no longer the dirty polluters they one were, as with modern engineering the carbon emissions are very much lower. Yes, technology has come a long way with these vehicles, which have become very sophisticated. Certainly they are a far cry from the type of vehicle that I was using when I first began trucking.
54–feet of 44–tonne vehicle isn’t something
you can drive down any street you like
On the continent, people view trucks and truckers, not just with benevolence, but with real respect. After all, this isn’t a vehicle you can just chuck into a street parking space before popping into the shop, or use to zip up and down any side road to avoid the traffic queues.
This is a gargantuan machine that requires precision and a lot of thought to be able to get anywhere effectively. Even just turning left can be a major procedure, and we’re still going forwards! Manoeuvring backwards is something else.
In other countries, people seem to appreciate the value of the truck in modern life and the job that the heavy goods vehicle driver’s do. As a result they take trucks in their stride without getting up tight. They’re just part of the road scene, and actually an important one too.
Trucks on our roads make a major contribution to our National economy
Each year 370–million tonnes of imports⁄exports worth £350 billion are moved within the UK (6–tonnes⁄£6,000 worth per person).
For every member of the UK population, 100–kilograms of materials are moved 100 miles every day [Engineering Council, A Vision for Transport 2020 (1997)].
The road haulage industry carries some 92% of all domestic freight, whereas rail accounts for only about 6%!
So, whether we like them or not, trucks on the road are doing a great job in maintaining our way of life. Personally, I love them, and I think some of the heavies look really cool too, particularly with the light sets and air horns.
The height advantage of the driver’s cab
provides a brilliant view of the road ahead
When I am driving the rig the height of my eyes is around 9–feet from the road surface, the view in the forward direction is exceptional. I don’t care how much money any individual out there may have, how expensive their car, as truck driver’s, we don’t practice any discrimination. We look down on all! It really is the best view on the road, of the road.
Everyone who comes out with me for a trip always comments on this and tends to be surprised what a panoramic view you get of what’s going on down there, and around us on the road. It’s almost like a bird’s eye view of proceedings.
I see mobilers’ meanderings, parked up philanderings, suicidal slaloms, near misses, late turn offs, undertaking, overtaking, tailgaters with their ‘invisible towropes’ and drivers facing their passengers, these being the lethal ‘left check’ talkers! By the way, they all say the same thing, my passengers that is – it’s a real eye opener, and it is!
There are bad apples in every size and shape of barrel
Now, before you start yelling at me, I know there are some pretty awful, inconsiderate and dysfunctional truckers out there, as indeed there are car drivers. Every classification of vehicle driver has them in their midst, as that is just a fact of life. That, unfortunately, is what you get when there is no continuation of driver training.
There’s a lot of power under the bonnet of this vehicle (well actually, and to be more precise, it’s more under your bum), but more particularly, it’s the enormous amount of torque. Nearly 2000nm from the 12–litre turbo diesel, but it purrs like a pussycat, and the 12–speed double–clutch gearbox, with automatic main clutch, is a real beauty.
The Direct Shift Gearbox
Referred to as a DSG for short, this transmission is like an automatic gearbox in a way, but in reality, it’s a manual gearbox without a clutch pedal. If you are into this sort of technical stuff, here’s some anorak–style information for you.
The Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), also known as the double–clutch gearbox, is a transmission system originally developed by Audi and Volkswagen. What makes it special is that it can change gears faster than any other geared transmission. The DSG can be shifted either manually or used in automatic mode.
It delivers more power and better control than a traditional automatic transmission, and with faster performance than a manual transmission. It can perform matched–rev (or double–de–clutch) downshifts for smoother transition from gear to gear.
When the driver downshifts, the DSG disengages the clutch, shifts to neutral, and re–engages the clutch. It calculates what the engine RPM will be in the next–lowest gear, based on the current road speed, and so revs the engine (and since the clutch is engaged), spinning up the transmission to that speed. Then, it disengages the clutch, shifts into the lower gear, and re–engages the clutch, all to make for a seamless gear change. Wonderful. Gone are the days of transmission delay and lag.
Basically, this partially automated system is able to do what we old truckers were brought up to do years ago on the old 6, 8 and 16–speed crash boxes (For you younger driver, that means no synchromesh), and by the way, it does it faultlessly.
The legal top speed for this vehicle on a motorway is 60mph
and 40mph on de–restricted single carriageway roads
These vehicles are fitted with limiters on the engine, which restricts the top speed to 56mph, and that’s if we’re lucky! The vehicle I am driving is limited to 85 kph, which is about 52–ish. This can be a real pain at times, but the big boss at the firm has a thing about fuel saving! Mind you, with an annual bill exceeding £3.5–million for diesel, perhaps he has a right to be concerned.
On dual carriageways we’re restricted by law to 50mph, which is seemingly not known to many car drivers. Our maximum legal speed on single carriageway roads is a mind numbing, and other road–user frustrating, 40mph. Yes, 40mph, regardless of what the limit above 30mph applies to a car driver. That is about the same as the top speed of a modern farm tractor!
This is an old out–of–date speed restriction, which needs to be reviewed and upgraded. It is leftover from a bygone age. I can remember 8–wheelers being restricted to 20mph when I was a kid, and no, before you say it, I don’t remember steam trucks!
With all–round vented disc brakes, on both tractor and trailer, plus powerful exhaust brakes and engine retarders, 40mph is a nonsense for some roads. Do us a favour, raise it with your MP, as it will need parliament to change things.
Most of us truckers try to keep the traffic flowing
by pushing along at just under 50mph
Traffic cops will usually ignore us, or give a warning, unless we pass the magic half–ton barrier on a single carriageway. However, we are risking points on our licences though and for no other reason than to try and be as little a nuisance to you as we can.
Please bear this in mind next time you’re behind one of us. If we just bimbled along at the legal speed we could earn more, because we are paid by the hour, but your frustration levels would be bubbling over.
As I said in the beginning, I am fortunate enough, in fact I feel priviliged, to be able to drive these big rigs, more or less as a hobby, and that’s what it is to me really. I do it for the love of the job, working weekends just to be in this awesome beast.
It’s like having a big toy to play with; lovely. But, as a well–trained high performance car driver and coach, as well as being an experienced trucker, I can see clearly see the issues that each has with the other. There are two sides to this story though.
I have always maintained that it would do every car driver, and motorcyclist, the world of good to have the experience of a ride in the cab of a big truck. It would broaden driver awareness and develop an understanding of the needs of those who drive these big vehicles. If that were to happen, I know there would be far fewer conflict situations between us, and dare I say, fewer road collisions as well.
Time now to hit the road, so sit back and enjoy the ride
Anyway, welcome on board! Now let’s fire up the beast and make ready to go. The engine is running sweetly at idle, and the air gauges for the braking system are showing that we are up to pressure. These vehicles have compressors that are powered by the engine to pump air into the air storage tanks, which feed the brakes.
We’ll just set the air conditioning to a comfortable level, select the required radio station and make sure the Traffic Feature is set to the on position. This way we can keep up to date with the situation out on the road by receiving the various traffic reports. Now, a good check around the mirrors whilst engaging the gear, and we’re off across the yard towards the gates.
The cab provides a peaceful environment
The first thing you notice from within the cab is the quietness; better than many cars in fact. We have a great sound system on board as well. Very important! The controls are all power assisted and my seat even has an air suspension system all of its own.
Bostrom originally developed the concept of having suspension in the seat. It raised the profile of the driver (quite literally) from just being a machine operator, but not catered for, to someone to be regarded on a more professional level.
The company recognised the long hours in the saddle and developed what was the beginning of a new approach in design and layout applied to large goods vehicles, making them more driver, as well as Operator friendly.
A driver, as you know well from your own experience, needs a comfortable, ergonomically friendly environment in which to operate efficiently. Now we have one, but it wasn’t like that when I started trucking.
In those days you could see the road passing underneath you where the gear lever went down through the floor. There were ill fitting doors and the noise in the cab was dreadful. Radios were not supplied, and even if they were, you would never have heard them! Power steering came in the form of a hearty breakfast and big arms. Oh how things have changed.
The Scandinavians started the evolutionary ball rolling
with their Volvo’s and Scania’s
These vehicles represented the a significant change in truck design and technology, whereafter all the others were forced to play catch–up. I couldn’t believe the difference when I climbed into my first Volvo F86. I can still remember the number plate, JRT 12K. That’s the sort of impact it had on me.
This vehicle was very different to that which I had previously used. There was an eight–speed gearbox, four over four (four gear pattern then flick switch in the first gear position for the next four higher gears) with syncromesh and overdrive on all gears to give you 16–ratios.
It was unheard of back then to have sixteen smooth changing gears. Previously, all my trucks had crash gearboxes and that’s where you had to master double–declutching and rev match gear–changing. You had to be as good at it as any racing driver – and there was a radio, which you could actually hear. There was real power steering too! Compared to what I had been used to it was an absolute joy to drive and to be in. Anyway, I reminisce, but now we take all these things for granted. God bless evolution!
If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you
As you look into the mirrors you’ll be amazed by the rear–view, or rather the lack of it. It is very limited, as you can see. From a car driver’s perspective, if you can’t see into my mirrors, then I can’t see you. It’s very simple.
There’s 45–feet of trailer behind my cab to severely restrict my rearward vision, and that can vary in worsening degrees, depending upon the alignment of the whole vehicle.
There are real blind spots at different times as well, and it amazing how many car drivers will hover alongside me, just where I can’t see them. So be warned, and please remember this advice is for your safety, as well as mine!
To continue on this journey, just make a click with your mouse on the link to part–2 for the next edition. From there I will take you even further down my roads and I’ll be sharing a few more insights into the world of trucking that you may find really quite amazing.
So, until then, stay safe out there.
First Published November 2007
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Truck Driving – A View From the Cab