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Lee Coppola: Dad’s driving lessons have proved beneficial

When I was a youngster, I was the front-seat “navigator” for my father when we drove back to Buffalo after visiting relatives in Warren, Pa. It was always pitch-black on often fog-shrouded, two-lane country roads. Along the way my father gave me driving lessons.

The dotted line means you can pass, he would instruct. The solid line means you can’t pass because, if you do, you might not be able to see an oncoming car in the other lane. Two solid lines mean cars going either way can’t pass.

His most-often-repeated lesson was to learn from truck drivers. They sit high up in their cabs and can see far more than you can, my father would point out. And, he would add, if you are trying to pass them and they see danger ahead, they won’t let you.

Sure enough, on occasion on those dark roads, a truck would pull over to the left when my father tried to pass. See, he would say, you can never go wrong following a truck.

My father wasn’t a truck driver by trade, but I assume he appreciated the skills truck drivers possess because, as a city employee, he often helped clear streets after a snowstorm while sitting high in a plow truck. And for many years, as a second job to help pay the college expenses of my brother and me, he loaded freight at Red Star Express Lines, where I’m sure he encountered many truck drivers.

His lessons stuck with me, and proved worthwhile and beneficial in the decades of driving I have done since those trips back home from Warren. I passed them on to my children and my wife when they started driving. And more than once on the 65-minute drive home from work during blinding snowstorms or fog-filled nights, they may have saved my life. That’s because during those bad-weather drives I always was grateful when I saw red running lights on high. I knew then I was behind a tractor-trailer with a driver sitting high and seeing more than I could, so I followed and eased my grip on the steering wheel.

Those lessons from my father and his respect for truck drivers hit home recently as I was driving south on the I-190 toward the ramp leading to the Skyway. I was in the right lane when, suddenly, I found myself stuck behind a long line of stopped cars. An accident, I figured as I gingerly moved into the center lane. While driving slowly toward the skyway ramp I noticed a tractor-trailer stopped ahead in the right lane with its emergency lights blinking. So that’s the culprit, I thought. But as I passed the rig I saw a disabled vehicle in front of the truck.

Then it hit me. It was almost the same spot where, in 1998, six persons lost their lives when their disabled van was hit from behind and burst into flames. There is no shoulder on that elevated stretch of the I-190 and the van had no place to pull over out of traffic. The state even erected signs after the accident warning motorists not to stop.

I don’t know if the driver of that rig knew of that accident years ago. What I did know was a huge vehicle was protecting a much smaller vehicle from being hit from behind by fast-moving traffic. It was as if Goliath was befriending David, a big brother sheltering a smaller sibling.

The driver probably was on a tight schedule. But at that moment, safety was more important than meeting a deadline. So often acts of kindness and concern go unnoticed. This one didn’t.

So thanks, Dad, for enlightening me about the traits of truck drivers. Next time I’m near one, I‘ll beep and wave, because I’m glad truck drivers are on the road and watching out for us.