I struck a doe on February 13. My vehicle suffered about $1,800 worth of damage, but the animal fared much worse — its carcass lay on the side of the road for a week.
As a former carrier for the News & Observer of Raleigh, until roughly two years ago, I’m surprised this didn’t happen to me much sooner. I had a rural route that ran about 50 miles, and wildlife sightings — especially deer — were common.
On the day before my collision, however, another newspaper deliveryman was not so fortunate. Stephen Lee, who delivers the Star-News in Wilmington, N.C., struck and killed Frank Sutton, who was walking north in the northbound lane apparently near his home at about 6:30 Sunday morning. Lee was charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle, and a state trooper said Lee had been driving on the wrong side of the road when he hit Sutton.
According to the report in the Star-News, Lee’s driving behavior was only the most recent cited by law enforcement in Wilmington. Another of the newspaper’s carriers was warned twice about the practice in January.
Well, it’s time the secret (if it is indeed a secret) came out: newspaper carriers are trained to drive on the wrong side of the road. It’s not in any instruction manual, or necessarily even spoken between management and delivery people. But trust me, it’s their policy, and Star-News home delivery manager Scott Wiggs even admitted it. In a December letter explaining policy changes to some of the paper’s subscribers, he wrote, “Driving on the wrong side of the road is a standard operational procedure, not just at this paper but at papers around the country.”
From my personal experience, I can tell you that the manager overseeing my territory for The N&O trained me (silently) to swerve to the left all night long, in order to (un)safely (and dryly) deposit customers’ papers in their mailbox tubes. Unlike many postal carriers, newspaper deliverers don’t have a steering wheel on the right side of their dashboards. They often must instead cross the road into the oncoming traffic lane in order to make deliveries.
My route was very rural, winding through farmland and much forest, but I still learned the hard way that this practice could be dangerous, even on infrequently traveled roads. One night on a long two-lane straightaway where the speed limit was 55 miles-per-hour, I had to cross over to make one of my many left-hand paper tube deliveries. I had my emergency flashers on (also policy, and I believe required by law for delivery vehicles) and far in my rear distance I saw a pair of headlights. Plenty of time, I thought, to make the delivery, wait at the tube for the rear vehicle to continue in the right lane and pass, and then I could continue on my way.
I was wrong. The headlights belonged to a pickup truck that was moving much faster than I perceived, and the driver decided to pass me on the left (there was a broken yellow line on the road) just as I was drifting similarly to make the delivery. Wham! He rear-ended me, and I still have the crumpled rear fender as a reminder.
Fortunately that incident didn’t lead to any injuries, or worse. Thinking back, considering all the bundling, binding and bagging of newspapers I had to do while completing my route on time, it’s a miracle that I didn’t wind up in a hospital somewhere along the way. Add grogginess, darkness, foul weather, an unrelenting deadline, and unpredictable late night drivers, and you have a potentially disastrous cocktail making the rounds every night.
Apparently though, newspapers could care less. After the Lee/Sutton tragedy in Wilmington, the Star-News report made sure readers knew that “Lee is an independent contractor, not a Star-News employee.” Publisher Robert J. Gruber said, according to the paper, that all contracted drivers were responsible for complying with the law. Translation: “Don’t blame us.”
Newspapers like things that way with their carriers. They won’t employ them directly because the job is too dangerous, and it’s too costly to insure them and pay them properly. It’s much easier to push those costs onto the delivery person as a bogus “contractor” and try to escape the legal liabilities when it becomes necessary.
Newspaper editorial boards often like to stand up for the little guy, and call employers to account when workers are treated unfairly. They also howl when public safety is compromised due to corporate negligence. Well, in this area they need to call for their own house to get in order before somebody else gets killed.