Driving 40-ton Juggernaut and Watching TV

Motorists sharing French truckways with walls of Heavy Goods Vehicles would be wise to keep a wary eye on those truck trains; some of their drivers are watching TV, not the road!

Some truckers prefer watching TV to the motorway- police

Police patrolling the super-busy A9 motorway between Narbonne (in the Aude) and Perpignan (in Pyrénées-Orientales) were stunned when they intercepted a Czech HGV driver travelling between Romania and Spain, who they said, was watching in-cab TV rather than the road.

According to a Le Figaro report Olivier Tainturier the sub-prefect at Limoux, with special responsibility for road safety, said he was shocked. “This type of behavior trivializing their métier by driving while watching a movie on a screen in the cabin is amazing.”

How do they manage it? The technique used by the HGV-TV drivers is to align the HGVs’ right-side wheels on the white-striped rumble bands that mark the emergency shoulder of the motorway, turn on the autopilot limiter at 80kph, open up a crisps packet and settle back to watch their favourite TV show. Hopefully the sound is low enough not to drown out rumble band noise, the only alarm signal that separates the delinquent driver from a potentially horrifying accident.

In the first quarter of 2011, French motorway patrols reported 43 traffic violations of this type on this stretch of the A9 motorway used by some 17,000 HGVs per day. Olivier Tainturier is urging Paris to apply tougher penalties.

The motorway concession operator ASF says in 2008, 7.5 million vehicles and 3 million HGVs crossed the French-Spanish border using the A9.

Between Perpignan and the border the 40kms motorway is currently 2 lanes in each direction but is being widened to three each way to give it the same capacity as the rest of the A9.

Fara N’Doye commander of the motorway road safety squadron, said the driver he apprehended had been “travelling with a lighted screen in the pilot’s field of vision” and was fined €90 in cash on the spot (if he had been French he would have had two points added to his license as well). “The trucker did not seem particularly upset, and after paying his fine he resumed his journey,” the newspaper reported.

Indeed says the commander, a few minutes later as the patrol resumed surveillance on the highway they stopped, a second trucker, this time a Spaniard also driving while watching a movie on a TV screen. He said his group were so concerned they planned an all-out blitz on drivers taking risks that endanger all motorway users.

Horrifying as it sounds this is not the worst behaviour by HGV truckers. Commenters on this report related cases of seeing truck drivers watching TV, relieving themselves into bottles, eating sandwiches, making telephone calls and fiddling with play stations while at the wheel.

On the Gendarmes en Colere (Angry Gendarmes) forum, one user suggests trucks be fitted with mandatory blocking mechanisms to intercept TV signals the moment the engine is started and cure drivers of their death defying TV habits.

Truckers in the days when there was no TV

This incident is but the latest in a series of disturbing reports about misuse of French motorways by European truck drivers.

According to a Scottish Daily Record report in 2008: “Truckers are dicing with death by watching TV or playing video games while driving along motorways. Lorry drivers have also been seen with their feet on the dashboard and even making sandwiches or rolling cigarettes while at the wheel. The trucker madness has been reported by French autoroute maintenance workers. Motorway controller Romain Fronteau heading the north and western France network said: “Workmen on our roads have reported foreign and French drivers carrying out a list of highly dangerous activities while at the wheel of 40-ton HGVs. France is the crossroads of Europe and our motorways are used by tens of thousands of domestic and foreign lorries every day.”

At least it hasn’t come to this….yet

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Story: Ken Pottinger

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