When looking at the typical car driver’s fear on the road around trucks, it seems the problem is truck drivers are like spiders. Many people know very little about spiders, but have a genuine dread of them and get frightened around them.
Sound familiar? Most people driving down the road in their light vehicles have a dread of being around trucks. They will do anything to get away from the trucks, including driving dangerously. The consequences of this are pretty predictable, occasionally ending badly and, unfortunately, due to the disparity of size and weight between truck and car, the lighter vehicle almost always comes off worse.
Much of this fear is based on the lack of familiarity the car driver has with anything to do with trucks. Trucks are a mystery and, as a result, to be feared. In addition to this lack of familiarity, there is the long-held stereotypes of the truck driver, reinforced regularly by irresponsible reporting on shows like A Current Affair and elsewhere.
People are also scared of spiders, there is an element of animal instinct in this fear, but there is also a lot of fear of the unknown in there as well. People can be treated for their arachnophobia, often with exposure therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In one of these, CBT, the therapist tries to replace the negative automatic thoughts associated with spiders with more rational thoughts.
Other therapies used include introducing the person slowly to spiders. To begin with from a distance, but slowly convincing the arachnophobe to come just a little bit closer, bit by bit. This process will often take a long time, but it is possible to get people, after regular treatments, to be able to stay calm when around spiders, and not have some form of panic attack.
Of course, the car drivers fear around trucks is not at the same level as the fear of spiders, but it does follow the same arc of lack of familiarity breeding increased fear, leading to irrational actions in the situation.
The videos released this week through the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and Whiteline Television, featuring Rod Hannifey and Nicola Rutledge could well be a simple starting point. They can be the first steps in getting car drivers more familiar with trucks and trucking.
The problem is getting these well thought out and well designed messages out there. People driving smaller vehicles around trucks need to become more familiar with the idea the driver of the truck is more than just competent, they are professionals who know how to steer 68 tonnes of vehicle, 26 metres long and 2.5 metres wide, without damaging people or vehicles around them.
The process is going to be exceedingly slow, but the effort must be made to make car drivers more familiar with truckies, to get them to understand how skilled the drivers are and how motivated they are to keep everyone safe.
If the trucking industry is going to get to the hoped for zero fatalities as a result of an accident between a truck and another vehicle, talked about last week by Adam Gibson in the National Truck Accident Research Centre report, the car drivers need to feel comfortable the driver of the truck next to them on the highway can be trusted.