A trucker testifies about “zippers”

by Paul Ruffin

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!

Courtesy of the Huntsville Item
Paul Ruffin may be reached c/o English Department, Box 2146, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, 77341-2146, e-mail eng_pdr@shsu.edu.