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Rock in the stream: the Safety Dept. lied to you! | TruckersReport.com Trucking Forum


I had published this elsewhere in the past, but figured a larger audience could stand to hear it…

But it’s not really lying as much as it’s misinformation. The big lie that is taught is the whole “Rock in the Stream” idea. In multiple discussions, it’s come up over and over again as being part of the Smith System of defensive driving. So let’s take a peek:


I know a lot of drivers mock the Smith System, but the reality is that if you’re a good defensive driver, you already use these ideas. I wasn’t exposed to it until I’d been driving almost 10 years, but I realized right off that these were the exact same tactics I’d used when riding my motorcycles, and that I carried into my driving career. You largely operate as if you are invisible to other drivers. But I don’t want to get sidetracked, so we’re only going to talk about #4, the only place where the rock idea could possibly fit.

The thinking presented by the safety industry is that by occupying the middle lane at less the average speed, you’re minimizing what the driver must deal with, allowing him/her to focus more on what’s in front of them. And that’s largely true in dense urban areas with an exit every mile or two. But it doesn’t necessarily jive with “Leave Yourself An Out,” once you’ve moved out where the exits are a few miles apart. The concept is to make sure that if things go badly awry, you have an action you can take to get your vehicle out of harm’s way. That could mean a lane change or it could just mean slowing down. But the idea is to always be aware what’s around your vehicle at all times, front, side, and rear. The reasoning is that it’s far quicker to verify the situation and react than it is to analyze what’s around you on the road, make your decision, and react. And 38 years of trucking gives me the experience to tell you that’s true. You already know your options, you’re just verifying, and it’s easy to move to next if the first is invalid. Compare that to having to determine your options and then decide which is the best. You’re simply reducing the amount of information your brain has to process to make a decision. Verifying can result in almost instant reaction, analysis inherently takes longer.

But when you’re the rock in the stream, suddenly you’re needlessly dealing with passing traffic on both sides of your vehicle. And instead of leaving yourself an almost guaranteed out with the shoulder, you’re now have to keep in mind closing traffic on either side of you. You’ve actually made it harder for the driver to ensure they have an out.

We won’t even get into the incredibly frustrating effect this has on traffic flow, with a vehicle as much as 15 mph below the speed limit occupying the center lane and causing a congestion bubble around that truck which further increases risk, as that truck is now in an artificially high traffic area.

So why is this taught? Herein lies the BIG LIE. The big fleets teach this for one reason, and one reason only, it’s to reduce liability. The reality of this occurred to me after reading and listening to an assortment of drivers talk about how their safety departments encouraged less scanning of the mirrors (if you watch, few of the rolling roadblocks ever look in either mirror) and more attention to road ahead. Why? If someone hits your moving vehicle from behind, it’s very hard to make the case that you are in any way liable for that accident.

So, there it is. Instead of actively trying to teach their drivers to be the best professionals they can be, safety departments across our industry are only worried about covering themselves in any civil proceeding. Being a safer driver is a secondary consideration, and you should examine every thing taught by your safety department through the lens of that knowledge. Because it’s very unlikely to be the only lie you’re being fed.


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