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Show respect for big rigs

Statistics can lie, but the following numbers smack of cold, hard truth:

More than 600 big-rig truck drivers die each year in highway accidents, but only 25 percent of those will be the fault of the truck driver. Driving tankers and flatbeds, in fact, is considered the most dangerous occupation in America.

The message is clear. American motorists are losing their fear and respect for 18-wheelers, and truck drivers are not as careful and courteous as they once were. Once seen as "Gentlemen Cowboys" who would salute passing cars with their lights, today's long-haulers are thought of as obstructions to clear — like hazards on an obstacle course. Part of the problem lies with the truckers, who have lost some of their manners. But for the most part, the people in cars are to blame.

That's why the Utah Department of Transportation is sponsoring a campaign to keep people from getting killed when cars and trucks collide. Several stories in the Deseret Morning News have tried to shine a bright light on the problem. In the interest of public safety, we repeat a few safety suggestions here:

Don't drive in a trucker's blind spots; make sure you can see his mirrors.

Don't tailgate a truck or speed to pass.

Realize trucks need space to turn and can roll easily — sometimes at only 5 miles per hour.

In short — trucks need room. Give it to them.

One trucking Web site suggests that truckers always think of their cargo — whatever it is — as dynamite. And every other motorist on the highway should hold that same thought.

The number of big rigs on the road is expected to double in the next 20 years. Already deadlines and destinations are taking a toll on the nerves of truck drivers. More independent drivers are at work. More amateurs are getting involved.

The more space motorists can give them, the better.

Country music songs have turned big rig drivers into American folk heroes — the convoys and the free rides for terminally ill kids. And, indeed, there is a romance on the road with long-haulers. And for the most part they live up to their billing. In a nation that loves being on the move, truckers are on the move the most.

But songs and sentimental folklore don't comfort the families who lose loved ones. And people are dying at an alarming rate. Education, common sense and courtesy would lower the death tally.

As the old slogan has it, leave your blood at the Red Cross, not on the freeway.