Cormac MacConnell: Trucks are lethal in the wrong hands

A leading surgeon, with half the letters of the alphabet after his name, went into his operating theatre this very morning to go to work.

It could have been in Dublin or in any of our leading big hospitals. Let’s assume that he was a cardiac surgeon in his prime, undertaking a delicate operation to save the life of the patient on the table.

This surgeon in his sterile theatre, as he began his day, was surrounded and assisted in his work by at least €1m worth of the most advanced hi-tech equipment in the world, and by a team of 10 or 12 professionals, including an assistant surgeon.

Some of the instruments to hand are so advanced they could have virtually carried out the delicate operation themselves, with only minimal human intervention.

And that, to the best of my knowledge at least, is another scrap of the pure truth.

We will assume that things went well. The operation, however, took several hours but, when the donkey work was done, the surgeon handed over the closure of the operation to his assistants.

He went home early in the afternoon in his top of the range Mercedes saloon quite happy that he had performed well and had saved a life. And he was entitled to that satisfaction. Fair play to him.

At about the same time as the surgeon would have arrived home, I was stopped at the slowest traffic lights in Munster, in the town of Killaloe, at the end of the bridge across the Shannon which links Clare with Tipperary.

There is a bottleneck here. The bridge is narrow, so the traffic is one-way all day.

As I was listening on the car radio to the grisly details of the aftermath of that dreadful Nice disaster, a giant articulated truck came over the bridge from Tipperary, and the driver, towering high above us in his cab as he made his right-hand turn, had barely inches to spare on all sides, as he guided his heavily laden vehicle into Clare.

There were two carloads of children ahead of me at the lights.

The slightest miscalculation by the trucker would have been lethal. But it did not happen. The brawny 50-something truck driver in the blue shirt showed the precision of a surgeon, as he smoothly went on his working way.

Fair play to him too.

And it occurred powerfully to me, in the aftermath of our new knowledge from Nice about exactly how lethal a truck can be when used as a weapon, or otherwise driven dangerously, how huge a debt we other road-users owe daily to our corps of truckers and coach drivers who, through their professionalism, quite literally save hundreds of lives weekly on our roads. 

They are mighty men (and some women).

They do not have cabs fitted with high-tech equipment like the surgeon has. They do not have a huge professional support team around them if things go wrong. 

They do not have all those letters after their names like the medical boffins, and they do not earn the same kind of money that the medics do.

But I suggest the truth is that they save more lives daily, because of their finely honed skills and professional outlook, than all the surgeons in the land.

Nice proved to us, horrifically, that a truck much smaller than the one from Tipperary, could slaughter more than 80 victims, including children, and injure hundreds, in a minute or two. The dreadful truth, still wet ink in the headlines.

I have often been hugely impressed by the calm skills of our truckers and coach drivers. 

It is not just the almost surgical skills required that I appreciate, skills to negotiate heavy traffic and tight corners like the Killaloe bridge, or the equally dreadfully tight squeeze at Blake’s Corner in Ennistymon.

There is also the universal courtesy and consideration to others which these professional drivers invariably display everywhere. 

Check that out today when you find yourself sharing a stretch of roadway with one of them. You are certain to be impressed.

These drivers are rarely involved in road accidents. When they are involved, it normally emerges that it was other road users who erred rather than them.

Read the occasional court reports, to confirm the accuracy of this statement.

The reality is that these drivers truly hold our lives in their hands and, this being so, behave in a most responsible and courteous fashion. Have you ever noticed the efforts they make to facilitate you if you come up behind them on a narrow secondary road of few straights.

At the first opportunity,. they will pull in to any available space to set you free. That, certainly, has been my experience down many years.

Accordingly, whilst recognising the high skills of the surgeon who saved that one life in some theatre this morning, let us also recognise and salute the equally impressive road record of the men in charge daily of what the Nice horror has proved terribly are very lethal weapons indeed, when misused.


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