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Beware the dreaded UPT maneuver

May 19, 2017 - Robert H. Peck

It's a misunderstood (by me) procedure employed by big trucks on Interstate highways.

I just drove 3,000 miles in two weeks, most of it spent along the I-80 corridor through the Midwest. Back and forth to Connecticut from Chicago before heading home to Wyoming.

On a trip that long, lots of things are bound to go wrong.

My headlight went out. I was snowed in and encountered winter road closures in mid-May.

My car's interior became one large pile of trash, bumper to bumper, I probably lost some clothing in hotel rooms and won't realize it until I do my laundry. It's a hectic time.

But the most irksome thing by far, which has had me banging the steering wheel and tailgating and generally misbehaving in unsafe ways on the road is a phenomenon I've dubbed "Uphill Passing Trucks."

Here's how it works: You're about to pull around a pair of semis on the highway when the rear semi abruptly swerves out in front of you to pass the front semi, necessitating that you slam on your brakes.

You grumble for a moment and prepare to follow the slightly faster semi around its peer, but then realize you're going up a hill.

The passing semi, unable to build up enough speed to pass on the upgrade, instead pulls parallel to the other semi and stays in the left lane, blocking it.

Both trucks slow to 45 mph in the 80 zone, presumably because that's all they can manage uphill pulling their heavy, vital loads that supply the nation.

This continues for some minutes. Traffic lines up behind the trucks, 20 cars deep.

Neither semi slows, and neither speeds up. A wall of truck is formed that accompanies you for fully 10 minutes before the grade levels out and the passer can manage to finally get around.

Why do trucks attempt the Uphill Passing Trucks maneuver?

Honestly, I really want to know--if a trucker is reading this, write in to the editor and tell me, because I'm assuming you know full well when you go to pass on a hill that you can't pull it off and are going to be stuck like that for a long time, blocking everyone else.

Are you concerned about losing even a bit of momentum in such a large vehicle?

Do you believe that, if you don't pass now, you'll be stuck behind the other semi for too long as cars go around it up the hill?

Does a pair of trucks have more stability in windy conditions if they drive alongside each other on a hill?

It has to be something like that, I think.

There's no way professional drivers engage in Uphill Passing Trucks for no gain. It's absolutely maddening for passenger-car drivers like me, so I can only imagine it's worse for the truckers that have to deal with it all the time.

But sheesh! There sure better be a good reason. I sent bags and bottles and my plant in the passenger seat flying to brake hard for trucks veering out in preparation for Uphill Passing Trucks all across Nebraska and Iowa and eastern Wyoming. It's to the point now that I was almost relieved I-80 was snowed out, because the steepest hills are along that way.


Editor's note: Riverton native Robert H. Peck is a graduate student in the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa.

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