To truckers on the Capital Beltway, it's a jungle out there.
Dorothy Bryant, an 18-year veteran of the interstates who now hauls food for Safeway Stores Inc., has a name for one of the preeminent hazards to her life and health. She calls him the Habitual Lane Changer.
"These ones that hop from lane to lane, they just create problems," said Bryant, piloting her 60-foot-long rig along the Beltway during a recent afternoon rush hour.
A cheerful 50-year-old whose husband Joseph also drives for Safeway, Bryant thinks the traveling public has it all wrong about truckers. She has a perfect safety record at Safeway, spends 10 minutes checking her rig's equipment before she takes it on the road, and never -- well, almost never -- breaks the speed limit.
But "someone's got to be the goat, so why not truckers?" she said.
Truckers have an image problem, and the trucking industry knows it. In response to rising public concern, groups such as the American Trucking Association, of which Bryant is an unabashed supporter, are taking steps to improve the industry's safety record and polish its reputation in the process.
The association has lobbied hard for truck-safety legislation such as a new law that prohibits truck drivers from holding more than one license. On the Beltway, a full-time association patrol car cruises the highway looking for examples of unsafe -- or exemplary -- driving. The association then writes letters to the truck owners.
"We have been up front in acknowledging the problem," said association President Thomas J. Donohue.
At Safeway, which supplies about 180 stores in the metropolitan area from a warehouse in Landover, the concern has translated into on-board computers that record information about whether a truck has exceeded the speed limit, among other things.
When Bryant ventures onto the Beltway, she does so in a truck equipped with four mirrors on the right side -- a large side-view mirror, two smaller "spot mirrors" and a mirror angled downward that allows her to see the road next to the right front wheel.
But even that is sometimes not enough. "You see this car beside me?" she said, indicating a small sedan hugging the right flank of her rig. "That's a bad place. I can't see him in my big mirror. I can see him in my spot, but when I glance over, I can't see him. That's a bad spot."
She wishes drivers would learn to grant her a wider berth, and stop cutting her off at every opportunity. "People need to be educated," she said. "They don't know what it takes to stop one of these things."