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||SAFETY IN THE FIELD
by Mel Albright, AFMS Safety
"Hey y'all. Looks like we've got us a convoy here."
We rockhounds go on a lot of field trips. Often we go in convoys. Most often, someone says, "Follow me," we all pile into our vehicles, and away we go. Sad to say, we're not really thinking about safety. So let's do that a little while.
First, before you leave, everyone should get full information about where you're going and how you'll get there. Then, as the convoy goes along, no one will get frantic about losing it and missing out on the trip. That way, they'll pay attention to what's going on around them instead of worrying. A quick copy of a hand drawn map or written directions would be best. Otherwise, talk slow so people can make notes.
Now, let's talk about the leader(s). The first car should contain the guide who knows exactly how to get there AND the first car should have a cell phone AND the first car should have cruise control. The last car should also contain a guide who knows how to get there AND a cell phone. That way, the last guy can tell the lead car when to slow down, to speed up, that there's a problem, or what else is happening. If someone has car trouble, the "tail-end Charlie" can also make sure they get the help they need and get on to the field trip when they can.
The speed of the convoy is important. Ever watch a kid pull a Slinky across a rug while holding one end? The coils close up and spread out at random. The back end is standing still one minute and then moving faster than the front end the next. Well--that's what happens in a convoy. If all the cars went real slow, this stretching and shrinking might not be too bad. If they went real fast, things might get out of hand. And, there are always road conditions, traffic lights, stop signs, and other traffic to worry about. So, the first car should adjust speed according to what's going on. On a 4-lane, speed up. On a dusty road with no wind blowing, slow way down. After a stop sign, or after a traffic light or after a turn, slow way down until "tail-end Charlie" reports being by the point of change. On the open road, set the cruise control at 5 to 10 miles per hour under the speed limit. Then the stretching and shrinking won't get out of hand and no one will worry about getting left behind and the last car won't have to drive 80 once in a while.
If you're driving in the convoy, there are some things to pay attention to, also--such as the plate number and color of the car you are behind. Your distance behind the car in front should be as constant as you can make it. For safety reasons, you should observe the "2-second" rule--never be closer than 2 seconds behind (count "one thousand one, one thousand two"). If you see a car behind that isn't in the convoy and wants to pass, open up your spacing so they won't feel that they have to pass several cars at once. That way, they probably won't tailgate you. Do you remember the old saying "Monkey see, monkey do"? That should be you in a convoy. If the car leading you shows brake lights, step on your brakes. If it shows a turn signal, turn on your signal. If it changes lanes, you change lanes. If it speeds up or slows down, you do the same. If it pulls to the shoulder, you do too. Every car in a convoy should travel with headlights on. That we you know who's part of the convoy, and everyone else knows you're part of it too. You can also flash your lights to alert the driver in front of you if you need to slow down, pull over, or stop.
And, when you all get there with no problems, smile and start hunting that find of a lifetime. If you think I'm exaggerating the possible convoy problems, you should see the exchange bulletins. EVERY ONE of the problems mentioned above recently happened on ONE club field trip. Half the drivers got separated and were lost and NEVER got there. One car was delayed by an accident and the driver got a speeding ticket trying to catch up.