Safely transporting heavy loads to their destination

Read time: Approx. 4 minutes
Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: Christian Schürmann, Adobe Stock (Roland Rampsch)

23-year-old Larissa Weis escorts the transportation of prefabricated house modules and heavy construction machinery. She drives throughout Germany on behalf of BF3-Begleitservice Krakow to ensure trucks transporting heavy loads safely reach their destination. Find out how it all works, the challenges she faces and what she loves about her job in our interview and podcast.

So, Larissa, you escort heavy loads. What does a typical working week look like for you?
I usually only find out where I’ll be driving to on Monday the weekend before, and them I’m on the road until Friday. I’m generally only home on weekends. The transported goods we escort can involve both modules for prefabricated houses and particularly large, heavy construction machinery. I’m yet to escort wind turbines or similar loads, often regarded as the premium class of heavy load transportation. Routes are always determined at the last minute as a number of factors need to be accounted for, including whether the goods have been loaded on time, whether the weather is playing ball and whether all the drivers in the team can schedule in their breaks. For this reason, we aren’t able to plan more than two days in advance. But that’s what drew me to the job.
Where you do tend to drive?
Our orders take us throughout all of Germany and the neighbouring countries. We drive at night as the roads are quieter and the police have more time to help if we need it. In addition, each federal state has its own differing bans in place for heavy loads transportation. As a rule, we are not permitted to drive between 6 and 9 am in the morning or 4 and 7 pm in the afternoon. This downtime gives me time to take a nap or visit the town I’m currently in. I can park my van in normal car parking spaces, giving me more flexibility than my colleagues who drive trucks. During the summer, I enjoy driving to a lake from time to time for a dip during my breaks.
Do you always drive in a team?
Not always, sometimes I also escort loads on my own. But usually there are several of us driving different vehicles, each performing its own individual task. I drive a Sprinter van, which is classified as a transport escort vehicle 3 (BF3). I safeguard the transported load from behind, acting essentially as the truck’s mirror. I make sure that everything seamlessly fits on all sides when we’re driving in the countryside. When we’re on the highway, our transport loads typically require two lanes, so we’re in charge of making sure the truck has enough space. First and foremost, we deter cars from driving by too closely or too fast. There are also other transport escort vehicles on the team. For example, BF2 escort vehicles primarily drive in front of the truck to warn other drivers to watch out, primarily on highways. This generally requires the use of a rotating light. BF4 escort vehicles can be used to cordon off roads. This often involves three cars, which drive ahead and make sure the roads are empty so that only the truck can pass through. Traffic signs that we can switch using a system in our vehicles help us a great deal in all our tasks, e.g. “Warning!”, “No overtaking” or “No overtaking for trucks”. BF4 vehicles can also set speed limits, display arrows or “No thru traffic!”. We use radios to communicate on the road and let each other know if a car wants to squeeze pass, for example.

»There are too many drivers out there who don’t think before they act. In some cases, they use the breakdown lane to get past. This practice is dangerous, nerve-wracking and just plain annoying.«

Larissa Weis, heavy load escort driver for BF3-Begleitservice Krakow

Do you encounter this often?
Unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence! Lots of drivers simply see our flashing lights and just assume they should pass us, regardless of whether we’re driving at 55 or 30 mph. In some cases, they use the breakdown lane to get past. This practice is dangerous, nerve-wracking and just plain annoying. Every time we experience several of these overtaking manoeuvres, I always feel frazzled at the end of my shift. Once or twice, we’ve even witnessed side mirrors torn off of cars as they hit the load. Luckily, I haven’t experienced anything worse on any of my routes. It’s important to note that this can be avoided entirely if everyone on the road pays attention to our signs and complies with them. In road traffic, illuminated signs like the ones we use now have priority over fixed road signs.
There aren’t many women in your line of work. How do you find your job as a woman?
At the beginning, I did think twice about whether the job was really for me as a woman. I had an image in my head of a typical burly truck driver and didn’t know whether I’d really be up to the job. But then I figured I would never find out unless I gave it a go. Women are definitely few and far between in my field. However, that brings with it a certain number of advantages. Sure, everyone usually stares at me when I arrive as I’m a woman and, at 23, still pretty young. But lots of my colleagues never fail to step in and help if heavy loads need to be lifted, for example. Although, I’ve also learned a trick or two to make sure I don’t face any issues when I’m on the road alone. That being said, sometimes I just let people help. Needless to say, I’ve encountered some prejudice over my time as a transport escort driver. Certain men have refused to speak with me or asked “Couldn’t you send a man instead?”. Sometimes you need to say something to make it clear to the men that you belong here just as much as they do. At the end of the day, the job offers both advantages and disadvantages for women.
What would you say to other women interested in your line of work?
Be thick-skinned! You need to be able to grin and bear it, yet also assert yourself. But it’s all worth it! Don’t let others intimidate you. Sure, you’ll most likely hear a silly remark or two, but that happens everywhere.
Your job comes with a great deal of responsibility. How do you handle this?
We are required to handle lots of responsibility as we need to make sure that nothing happens to the truck driver and all other drivers on the road, regardless of whether they’re travelling by car, bike or walking. On top of this, the load needs to safely reach its destination undamaged. If I tell the truck driver that they have a meter’s clearance but it turns out there isn’t that much space, things can get very costly, very quick. All due to a brief moment of carelessness.
You started working as a transport escort driver in October 2021. What led you to pick this career and what do you enjoy about your job?
I initially trained to be a hairdresser. When I was working in the salon, I always had a similar routine and fixed working hours. That’s a thing of the past now I’m a transport escort driver. I often don’t know where I’ll be working tomorrow or what could happen at any second on my route. I think you need to be born for the job. Lots of people would find it far too stressful. Personally, I love it! When I realized that I no longer wanted to be a hairdresser, someone I knew started telling me about how she oversees the transportation of heavy loads as her job. Now I work with her. I needed to wait a little time at first as I had only had my driver’s license for one year, but needed to have had it for at least two years in order to drive the escort vehicles.
By law, everyone who drives an escort vehicle needs to possess a driver’s license and complete a two-day training course culminating in an exam. Which personal attributes are also essential for the job in your opinion?
You need to be willing to always be on the road during the week, to work nights and able to physically cope with the job. This all has its consequences. For example, I don’t see my family, partner or friends from Monday to Friday. I also can’t do anything during this time or, for example, enjoy my hobbies, as I’m pretty much always on the road. Besides, it’s important that you’re open and able to work well in a team with your colleagues.

»Us drivers are like one big family. I’ve pretty much only experienced good things to date. When you arrive somewhere, you get an instant warm welcome and everyone helps each other out.«

Larissa Weis, heavy load escort driver for BF3-Begleitservice Krakow

How do you find the team spirit among the team?
It’s palpable! Us drivers are like one big family, whether we’re driving escort vehicles or trucks. I’ve pretty much only experienced good things to date. When you arrive somewhere, you get an instant warm welcome and everyone helps each other out. If someone has forgotten their lunch, everyone helps out. Either by driving them to the grocery store with their van or giving them some of their own food.
You’re involved in the motorists’ initiative “Bewegen mit Herz e.V.”, which helps disadvantaged children have a great day with “A happy day of life”. What does this all mean to you?
Every year we travel to another federal state and pick up children from children’s homes or socially disadvantaged families with a truck convoy. We then celebrate with them at a fun party. It’s magical to see how happy it makes them. Last year I helped out at the stuffed toy stand, where the children were allowed to pick a toy for free. Voluntary work is of huge importance to me. Associations like “PROFI – Pro Fahrer-Image” represent the interests of us drivers, for example. It’s important to highlight that if all trucks just stopped driving all of a sudden, all the shelves in the grocery stores would be empty and all construction would come to a standstill. But there’s more to it than that. Truck drivers deserve more respect, particularly those who are on the road the entire week. They’re away from their family. In certain cases, they may even have an accident and never return home. They don’t just do their jobs for themselves, but for the benefit of us all. Each and every individual.
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