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Truckers don't get much respect from the average motorist.

For one thing, those 18-wheelers they drive are big and intimidating on the freeway. Nobody likes a bully.Then there is all the negative publicity truckers have been getting. News stories citing drug and alcohol use by truck drivers and reports of poorly maintained rigs with bad brakes and bald tires - 40-ton accidents waiting to happen - don't make good PR.

All this has not sat well with the American Trucking Associations, an industry group based in Alexandria, Va. ATA President Thomas J. Donohue came to Salt Lake City this week to try to do something about it.

The first thing that Donohue wants you to know is that, far from being a nuisance on the highways, trucks and truck drivers are important to your life. Trucks transported 83 percent of Utah's total inbound and outbound freight in 1989, so if you don't like trucks, you don't like food or anything else you buy in stores.

Also, said Donohue, one out of 11 Utah workers was employed in the trucking industry in 1990, a total of 52,118 jobs generating a payroll of nearly $1.5 billion. And it's not as though truckers don't pay their way. This year, the average semi will pay total state and federal highway user taxes of $8,078, 40 times more than a car.

But Donohue didn't just come to town to talk about how important trucks and truckers are to Utah's economy. He wanted to share a few thoughts about the No. 1 concern people have about them: safety.

The industry is doing it's part, he said, with on-highway inspections of trucks and their safety equipment and random drug tests for their drivers. Now, he would like Utah's motorists to do their part.

To help in that regard, the ATA has created a brochure, "How to Drive in Salt Lake City," which contains safety advice from professional truck drivers and a list of eight "Hot Spots" in the Salt Lake area that are generally regarded, both by accident statistics and truckers' opinions, as being the most dangerous in the county.

The spots are not in any particular order. In fact, he said, No. 7, the 2100 South expressway at the junction of I-80 and I-15, is the most dangerous (see accompanying map.)

All roads, not just those shared by cars and tractor-trailers, are inherently dangerous, of course, but Donohue cited some things you can do to avoid being on the wrong end of a car/truck accident:

- Slow down. Yes, you've heard it before but it still applies, said Donohue. The fact is, he said, "speeding is a very serious problem in this area."

- Don't tailgate. If you can't see the tires touching the road on the truck ahead of you, you're too close. Also, if you can't see the outside rear-view mirrors on the truck, the truck driver can't see you, and you definitely want him to know you are there.

- Don't cut in front of a truck just because there is an open space. A vehicle that can weigh up to 40 tons needs more slowing down and stopping room than a one- or two-ton car. It's a question of physics, not attitude.

- Don't speed up when a truck tries to pass you. Let it pass.

- Don't pass a truck on the right. Semis need a lot of room to make a right turn.

- In low light situations, turn on your headlights. It won't hurt and it might help other motorists, including truckers, see you.

- Buckle up. Your car's safety belt really might save your life, but not if it's on the seat instead of around your hips.


(Additional information)

S.L. area `hot spots' and how to drive 'em

Here are the eight Salt Lake area "Hot Spots" as identified by the American Trucking Associations and its advice on how to drive them. They are not in any particular order, although No. 7 is said to be the most dangerous of the group.

1. I-215 north at the I-215/I-15 merge near the Beck Street exit. Beware of treacherous fog throughout this section of highway, which is often complicated by the release of steam from a nearby refinery. Slow down, avoid tailgating and use low-beam headlights.

2. I-80 west through Parleys Canyon. The road declines at a 6 percent grade. Motorists new to the area assume they have completed the descent when the road levels off. Then they pick up speed without realizing they will soon be going downhill again. Control speed, don't ride the brakes and keep your distance from the vehicle ahead.

3. East-side I-215 at the I-80 west intersection. Westbound traffic on I-80 is reduced to one lane as it merges with three lanes of morning rush-hour traffic on I-215. Allow fellow motorists to merge, watch for quick lane changers and leave room for the car or truck ahead.

4. I-15 south near milepost 287. The "Point of the Mountain" is known for quick changes in weather - from normal to blizzard in minutes. Turn on headlights, slow down and, again, avoid following too close.

5. I-215 south between I-15 and the Redwood Road exit. Fog is also a problem here. Watch for heavy morning mist, especially where I-215 crosses the Jordan River.

6. U-201 from Magna to Salt Lake City, a two-lane road that widens to four lanes and becomes the 2100 South expressway. Many local streets feed into it, creating a constant stream of vehicles entering and exiting the highway. Stay alert, use your turn signals and obey speed limits.

7. 2100 South expressway, junction of I-15 and I-80. Traffic on 2100 South attempting to get on I-80 east must exit on the I-15 south collector, cross over two lanes and quickly exit left, all within a quarter mile and with fast traffic. Again, stay alert, watch for lane changers and avoid tailgating.

8. I-15 south from 600 South to 2100 South. Southbound I-15 motorists exiting west onto the 2100 South expressway must cross over the two lanes of the on-ramp from 600 South. This is especially hazardous during the evening rush hour. Check your mirrors before changing lanes, use turn signals and watch for slowing and stopped traffic.

Dangerous roads

1. I-215 N where it merges with I-15.

2. I-80 W. through Parleys Canyon

3. I-215 at the I-80 W. Intersection

4. I-15 S. near milepost 287 at Point of the Mountain

5. I-215 S. between I-15 and Redwood Road

6. U 201 (2100 S.) from Magna to Salt Lake City

7. 2100 S. junction of I-15 and I-80

8. I-15 from 600 S. to 2100 S.