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Students get insight on big rig driving

It is a popular saying that the best way to learn about someoneis to walk a mile in their shoes. Wal-Mart Distribution Center toldBrookhaven High School students Monday that possibly sitting intheir truck rig would work the same.

The Wal-Mart Transportation “Committed to Safety” Honor Rollprogram is one that teaches drivers’ education classes across thecountry about safety on the road, especially as it applies to18-wheelers.

“Driving is something we do all the time, and the things theylearn to be mindful of in this class are things they do every day,”said BHS drivers’ education instructor Eric Stokes. “Nobody gets onthe road and wants to have a wreck.”

Volunteer Wal-Mart drivers came to Brookhaven Monday to teachstudents about how to drive safely around trucks on the road. Thedrivers made presentations about how the big rigs operate andbrake, as well as where their very considerable blind spotsare.

“If we can prevent one crash, one injury, one death throughthis, it’s worth it all,” said driver Steve Spence, of the Picayunearea. “This is where it starts, right here with these kids, becausehowever you’re taught something, it stays with you. If you start onthe right track, you’ll stay there.”

Wal-Mart Safety Manager David Simmons said there are 400 newdrivers a year in Lincoln County alone. And while the class isprimarily offered to drivers ed students, it is one that maturedrivers can benefit from as well.

“We’d like to do a lot more of this,” he said. “It’s a communityservice for us, but it also helps us, because these kids can get toknow our associates and see we’re making a difference.”

The students were given a chance to climb into the rigs of two18-wheelers, where a motorcycle, a truck and a school bus had beenparked in the blind spots. Without quite a bit of adjustment, allthree were invisible from the drivers’ seats.

“It’s the truck driver’s golden rule,” said volunteer RickyOliver of Delhi, La. “If you can’t see him, he can’t see you.”

Once the students were back in the classroom, Oliver remindedthem of the further reality of traveling at high speeds on theroad.

“Remember you just did that sitting still,” he said. “Nowimagine you’re going more than 55 miles an hour.”

The drivers told the students, also, about the staggeringstatistics about wrecks involving a car and a big rig.

Of all car vs. semi accidents, 75 percent are caused by thedriver of the car. A large percentage of those are because the caris riding in the truck’s blind spots, found on either side of thetruck and behind the trailer.

And as for the myth about saving gas by riding in a truck’sbackwash, especially on a motorcycle, volunteer instructorsshuddered. They told the students that a truck’s underbodyclearance is much higher than a car’s and if something’s in theroad, they will attempt to straddle it instead of dodging it.

“If you’re following too close, you’re going to hit it,” saidDewayne Magee, of McComb.

They also told the kids that they have no way of knowing thereis another vehicle behind the truck if it is traveling too closely.Especially a motorcycle.

“You might as well go ahead and write your Social Securitynumber on your arm in permanent ink if you’re going to do that,”said Gerald Delancey, a driving veteran of 36 years.

Simmons said Wal-Mart is also working on a plan to make theirtrucks more road and environment friendly by the year 2015,including experimenting with hybrid trucks. In 2005, their vehicleswere averaging four and a half miles to the gallon.

“Wal-Mart’s commitment is to increase that 100 percent by 2015,”he said. “In addition, trucks generate heat when we stop. And withthe hybrids, that heat can help recharge the batteries.”

But overall, the emphasis Monday was on driver safety, and onstarting at the grass roots of tomorrow’s drivers.

“Remember a brand new vehicle won’t keep you safe against an18-wheeler or a train,” Magee said. “You don’t want to be the onethe police brought home because you were driving and you got yourfriend killed.”