Thursday, May 28, 2009

Give me a brake!

On the way home from work this morning, I saw a car plowed into a rock face.

I'm not quite sure how this happened. Maybe the vehicle had a blowout or some steering failure. Maybe the driver fell asleep or spilled coffee or something like that. Maybe they were run off the road, as happened in a work zone near Nanticoke last Thursday.

I never did explain what happened with the "Truck On Fire" incident last week. Apparently the driver of the truck was zipping through a construction zone at well above the posted speed limit, and failed to navigate through all of the barriers. He managed to rupture his truck's fuel tanks and set them on fire. He and his passenger - his wife - were able to get out safely before the entire vehicle was consumed by flames. The accident tied up Interstate 81 for hours and made tens of thousands of drivers late for wherever they were going. Loss of pay, time missed from school...all because someone in a truck was trying to go faster than he should have been. All because of careless and reckless driving.

I drive Interstate 81 every day. It is a very dangerous road, and the fact that there are not more major accidents on it is a testament to the skills of the people driving. Trucks always represent a high proportion of vehicles; many times, particularly in the early morning hours, my Tercel has been the only non-tractor trailer for miles.

These trucks rarely obey the speed limit, unless their advance spotters have warned them of a police presence. They also have no regard for the concept of "safe following distance", the distance it would require them to avoid an accident should the driver in front of them come to a complete stop. I do not know what the precise formula for tractor trailers is, but I'm pretty sure under no circumstances is a distance of five feet a safe following distance. Yet this is frequently the amount of space that separates my rear bumper from the front grill of the tractor trailer behind me, as its driver tries to encourage me to go faster - often through a work zone.

Every year around this time a press release comes out reminding motorists to allow lots of extra space around tractor trailers for safety's sake. How does that work? If I am driving through a construction zone at the posted speed limit, and a tractor trailer approaches me from behind travelling well in excess of the speed limit, am I allowed to accelerate to create a safety cushion between me and the truck?

It's not just the tractor trailers, though they are certainly the most dangerous safety violators on the road. Drivers of every sort of vehicle regularly ignore posted speed limits, drive recklessly, and endanger the lives of themselves and everyone else on the road.

But why? To what end? To get where you're going a little faster? How did that work out for the driver of the truck that was incinerated last week? And how did it work out for all the people who lost hours of their lives because of him? How about the woman who was run off the side of the road? Her car rolled and burned. What did the driver of the other vehicle get out of the deal?

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