A29 and Down


Smokey and the Bandit, 1977

From the LRB:

Dual carriageways and motorways are relatively easy driving in an articulated lorry. But other roads require more concentration, particularly at night and in the rain. Stretches of the A29 to Bognor Regis were hardly wide enough to get a lorry through if a car was coming the other way, let alone another lorry. If the load was heavy bottles of fizzy drinks, as it often was on a hot summer night, the lorry would slow to a snail’s pace on hills and I’d need to work the twelve or eighteen gears (depending on the vehicle) using the range change and splitter box switches. You can’t just cruise along with your brain in neutral and some nights I’d come home shattered.

You’re out on the road on your own, but management are constantly monitoring you through in-cab technology. This is good if it contributes to road safety – by monitoring driver hours, for example – but it also means delivery schedules are often so tight that they add to stress levels (missing your delivery slot because of roadworks or an accident could mean the load is rejected).

As far as driving jobs went, working for the supermarkets wasn’t too bad, and there were 45-minute breaks (the legal minimum) built into the schedule. But I’d never go back to it. I now work in historic gardens management, on a reasonable wage. Even when I started out as a gardener, though, the lower wages compared to lorry driving were worth it for the significantly reduced stress, better breaks, more sociable hours, better camaraderie between staff and a level of training I hadn’t got in the transport industry.

But above all – and I’ve heard this said by other current and former lorry drivers – the worst thing about driving lorries was not being regarded by management, or the general public, as a skilled professional. Lorry driving carries a lot of responsibility. You need a consistently high level of concentration to steer a giant machine safely along the road day after day. You need a knowledge of motoring laws far beyond that of the general driver, for instance about loading limits for different vehicles and weight restrictions. And you need to be able to cope with reckless car drivers who cut in front of you without a thought to your significantly longer braking distance.

“Off the Road”, Ian Tocher, London Review of Books

Comments are closed.