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W.Va. Auto Show exhibit shows truck drivers have little room for error

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Two inches.

That was the margin of error faced by veteran driver Clarence Jenkins as he steered his 18-wheel tractor-trailer through the doors leading to the Charleston Civic Center's main event floor.

His trailer - 13 feet 6 inches tall and 53 feet long - was the first vehicle to cross the 13-feet-8-inch threshold leading into the Civic Center ahead of this weekend's West Virginia International Auto Show.

Ruth Lemmon, president of the West Virginia Automobile Dealers Association, said about 500 vehicles will be spread across 120,000 square feet of Civic Center floor space Friday through Sunday.

From American automakers to imports, and low-cost to luxury models, this weekend's show will cover the full spectrum of automobile brands available to consumers today.

"We've got every product that's sold in West Virginia coming this year," Lemmon said. "Every car that we have a dealer for, we will have here."

In addition to new 2013 models, the show will feature antiques, pre-owned vehicles and some 2014 demo units.

But the first vehicle through the doors wasn't actually something consumers would buy.

Jenkins was hauling in the American Trucking Association's Share the Road program trailer.

It will be one of the driver education features of this year's show.

Share the Road is a highway safety outreach program designed to educate drivers about how to share the roads safely with large trucks.

The West Virginia and American trucking associations are partnering with Mack Trucks and Michelin North America to bring the program to this year's auto show.

A team of professional truck drivers, each with millions of accident-free miles under their belts, will offer life-saving safety tips to show attendees.

Jenkins said the program would give people hands-on experience inside tractor-trailers and an opportunity to see how blind spots affect a truck driver's view.

"It helps people to not only see what we see, but what we don't see when we're on the highway," he said.

"Most people don't realize what it takes to maneuver a truck," he said. "It's amazing when they get up in the seat and say, 'Wow!' That's when you know you've got their attention."

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says three of four truck-involved fatalities are unintentionally caused by car drivers.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 35 percent of all truck-involved highway fatalities occur in a truck's blind spots.

With more than three decades worth of trucking experience, Jenkins said he has driven more than 4.3 million miles without incident.

His only trouble came in 1980, when a driver entering the Washington, D.C. beltway accidentally merged into one of his right-side trailer tires. Fortunately, no one was injured and neither vehicle suffered major damage.

Since that incident was the other driver's fault, Jenkins can boast a zero-preventable-accident record.

"We pride ourselves on safety and our record," Jenkins said. "I want to retire with a no-accident record."

That was why he was so careful backing the truck into the Civic Center Tuesday. Had it hit the entryway, his 4.3 million-mile streak and accident-free record would have come to an end.

"It's a challenge, especially considering you've only got a few inches," Jenkins said.

West Virginia Trucking Association President Jan Vineyard said this is the third time for the Share the Road program to be at the Auto Show.

She said the trucking association has partnered with state school superintendents to bring the program to several schools around the state. They also have sent educational videos to schools to incorporate in their driver education courses.

"The reason we work with schools is because they're working with teenagers who are just forming their driving habits and we want them to have safe habits and good habits," Vineyard said.

But she said the Share the Road program isn't just for new drivers.

"It really does bring a lot of people," she said. "When we first had this, I thought we'd just see children, but it's an awful lot of adults, too."

While the program focuses on truck blind spots, Vineyard said the safety tips have evolved beyond that.

"It's not just how to drive around trucks; now it's also about distracted driving," she said.

Studies have shown that drivers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident than a non-distracted driver. Those who make phone calls on a handheld cellphone are about six times more likely to wreck.

By comparison, a drunk driver is five times more likely to have an accident than a non-distracted driver.

Lemmon said people who attend the auto show also can try a distracted driving simulator, which shows them what can happen to those who text while driving.

That simulator, sponsored by WCHS TV, will be available on Sunday, the show's final day.

Workers spent most of Tuesday laying tile and otherwise preparing the Civic Center.

Lemmon said the vehicles will be moved into their designated show areas today and setup will be completed by Thursday afternoon.  

Doors open to the public at 10 a.m. Friday.  

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148.

 


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