A Truck Driver's View Of City Driving

Posted: May 06, 1990

Ulysses Bell shut off the engine, alighted from the cab and pronounced the Roadway rig a "pup." After all, the truck was only 40 feet long. The tractor-trailer he customarily uses to deliver packages in the Harrisburg area is a 60-footer.

The 10-wheeled pup also was underfed. With its 28-foot trailer empty, it weighed in at an emaciated 13 tons. Fully loaded, it would weigh twice that.

But as Tom Thumb as it was by big-rig standards, the tractor trailer was a constant source of potential problems during our bone-jarring two-hour tour of Philadelphia's inner-city capillaries and equally congested four-lane arteries. They were potential problems for Bell - and potential problems for civilians like you and me, who drive those little, one- to two-ton waterbugs that dart around these highway barges.

Bell was chauffeuring a reporter and photographer around the city's streets and expressways to show what a truck driver has to deal with, what he has to do to avoid accidents with you - and what you have to do to avoid accidents with him.

His stop here was part of an effort to publicize a new, free brochure published by the American Trucking Associations called How to Drive in Philadelphia. The publication features tips from professional truck drivers on how to share the road safely with big rigs. It also includes a map of the top 16 Philadelphia-area "hot spots" (intersections and road segments that pose the most problems for motorists), and a list of the 10 most dangerous Philadelphia intersections.

The publication will be available through local police departments, or can be obtained by writing the American Trucking Associations, 2200 Mill Rd., Alexandria, Va. 22314-4677.


Before we pulled out, Bell and his companion, an area truck driver named Joe Reilly, had to vent their spleen about every trucker's recurring nightmare - the low overpass.

Some city overpasses don't have signs listing the clearance beneath them, and some might as well not have them, they noted.

"A lot of the bridges in Philadelphia aren't marked accurately," said Reilly. "For example, you'll have a bridge with a clearance sign that says 13 feet, 6 inches. Then they repave the street and lower the clearance to 13 feet, 4 inches, but don't change the sign."

When approaching overpasses of possibly trailer-squashing height, "you just have to inch up to them, get out and look, and even then you aren't sure," Bell chimed in.

Another pet peeve of the two is the lack of signs warning truckers of low bridges ahead.

"The lack of signage isn't just a Philadelphia problem," Bell added. ''The whole Northeast Corridor is notorious for that."

Bell got behind the wheel and started down Broad Street, toward the narrowed construction area at Vine Street. A car started to pull alongside as we approached the intersection, then dropped back. Bell smiled appreciatively.

"If that driver hadn't anticipated that, we could have scrunched," he allowed. "The first thing a passenger-car driver has to realize is what the truck driver can't see. He wants to stay out of our blind spots, which are basically from the door to the back of the truck, and the space immediately behind the truck."

When following a truck, Bell suggested, it is good to rememember that if you can't see one of the driver's side-view mirrors, he probably can't see you.

The trucker's blind spot right behind the trailer creates an even bigger blind spot for the following car, he added. The automobile driver can't see what's in front of the truck, and, therefore, won't see a changing traffic light or other driving situations that might be developing.

So tailgating, never a good practice, is particularly bad news with a truck.

The truck driver's blind spots also have obvious implications for passing. The key is to pass as quickly as you can in a safe manner. Once past the truck, signal your intention to move back into his lane. The professional trucker will usually signal back when it's safe to do so. Whether he does or doesn't, you shouldn't be cutting back in until you can see the entire front of the truck in your rear-view mirror.

Bell underscored the importance of proper truck passing as we headed west on the Schuylkill Expressway.

"See that?" he asked, as a passing car cut in front of a tractor-trailer ahead. "There's no way that guy can get that truck stopped if something happens . . . At 55 m.p.h., it will take me 300 feet to stop this thing. That's the length of a football field."

If there is one thing even more dangerous than cutting in on a big truck prematurely, it is cutting in and then braking.

As we rolled down I-95, talking about the bad things passenger-car drivers do, I asked Bell about some of the bad things truckers do on the highway. Like tailgating cars.

"I hate to see it, and I hate to hear about it," Bell replied. "The only thing you can do is get out of his way. You know, if some guy is coming after you with a gun, you get out of his way."


The following is a list of intersections in the city of Philadelphia which had the most accidents with injuries to vehicle occupants in 1988 (latest available data):


1. Broad St. and Allegheny Ave.

2. Broad St. and Olney Ave.

3. 22d St. and Washington Ave.

4. Ogontz and Olney Aves.

5. Island and Lindbergh Aves.

6. Allegheny Ave. and Second St.

7. Roosevelt Blvd. and Devereaux Ave.

8. Roosevelt Blvd. and Harbison Ave.

9. Roosevelt Blvd. and Southampton Rd.

10. Broad and Dauphin Sts.

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