This morning as I headed into work on our wonderful Interstate highway system, I found myself behind a little Honda that scared the crap outta me.

Having been trained as a professional driver, one of the things I constantly do while driving is scan the area around me, the other drivers and vehicles and terrain, for potential road hazards. I also scan for emergency routes.

If something happens unexpectedly, you need to see it coming and you need to know where you can safely go.

As an example, say you’re in the center lane of a three lane highway in medium traffic. If a car on your left decides NOW is the perfect time to merge into your lane without a signal and without looking to see that you are there, you CANNOT count on honking to save your ass. Honking is a passive warning trusting in the other driver to realize they are being stupid and to respond in time. No, YOU need to be the one to take action to achieve safety.

So, you have to know where stuff is. Is the car behind you back far enough that it’s safe to slam on the brakes without causing a rear end collision? Is there enough room in front of you to floor it out of the way? Are you able to accelerate fast enough? Is the area to your right clear right this second for you to safely swerve, or is someone there? Is there a gravel shoulder, or would you flip your car if you swerve off the paved road? Is there a stanchoin or bridge abutment coming up that you’d crash into?

You have no time to check all these things at the precise moment that car is swerving into your lane. You have to know what act you can take NOW that will safely get you out of harms way without killing someone.

Here’s a chilling thought: It used to be that some states had an ‘at fault’ policy, where if you hit another car from behind, no matter the situation or speeds or following distance involved, the person that drove the car that hit another from behind was automatically at fault. I don’t know if some still do, I don’t know the traffic laws of all 50 states. Most I do know of have swutched to ‘no fault’ policies now, though.

Anyway, people actually took advantage of this to set up teams of drivers, usually using three cars, to box you in. One car in front of you, one to the side and one behind. They’d box you in with a concrete divider to your side so you’d have nowhere to go, creep up to you so there was no safe place to swerve to or brake to, and then the driver in front of you would slam their brakes on, forcing you to ram SOMEONE in trying to avoid an accident.

Then they’d sue you for rear ending ‘em.

It’s a crazy world out there. I wish it were simply paranoia, but when your job is to drive full time, you learn just how scary it can be.

This post isn’t about how to avoid being mousetrapped or how to drive safely. It’s about how when I drive, I’m looking around me all the time, checking everything out.

As I said, I pull behind this Honda this morning, and what I see is the right rear tire on the car is wobbling. WOBBLING. Like, the other tires are clearly spinning just fine, a smooth rotation, but this one tire is wobbling side to side with at least an inch of play at the hub.

WTF?

Have you ever driven by a vehicle parked on the side of the road, and one axle is jacked up missing a tire, but there ain’t even a hub there to mount a tire rim to? You ever wonder how that happens?

THIS is how that happens! Some dumb son of a bitch driving in a car with a tire that is either completely loose on it’s lug nuts, or with a hub about to come right off the damn shaft! With a wobble like that, at 60 mph his car had to have been shaking inside like he was sitting on a jackhammer, AND HE WAS STILL GOING!

In the middle lane at full speed, no less!

Just, WTF R U thinking?

When that tire goes, we’re not talking about a flat that you limp over to the side of the road. We’re talking about losing the tire at the hub, having the car drop a foot and a half to the axle on that side, and tearing into the asphalt or concrete.

I saw that, and I immediately got out of that lane and slowed down, I put a LOT of space between me and that fruitcake.

Seeing that reminded me of some of the other WTF things I’ve seen on the road over the years, and thought it would be fun to share just a few.

The first one that comes to mind is the car I saw with four bed mattresses strapped onto it’s roof with bungie cords. The car was a green hatchback Gremlin, and the stacked mattresses were both taller than the car, and longer/wider than the top of the car’s roof. Much longer than the car’s roof.

I saw this in South Florida on I-90 just north of Miami, doing about 80 mph, and about 30 seconds after I saw this and moved the HELL out of the same lane, the mattresses (that were being pushed up by the wind) suddenly got pushed DOWN… blocking the windshield. The driver, suddenly blind as a bat doing 80 mph, spun out and then OFF the road onto the gravel shoulder and down into the ditch.

To this day I wonder how the heck the bungie cords held that long, but once off the road the magic was gone, and mattresses went flying.

Another one. I was driving my semi in Wyoming, on I-80, past Laramie headed east for Cheyenne.

Strait stretch of highway, lots of ranches out that way. I saw an old pickup truck come up an onramp behind me, with a bed stacked high with hay bales. And I mean high. The top hay bales on the stack were about 6 bales above the level of the bed.

Yeah, you know where this is going.

The hay bales were clearly lashed down to the bed with plenty of twine, because while the whole stack was listing to the left, they weren’t falling off. Instead, I started wondering what was keeping the truck from flipping over onto it’s side.

I sped up, because I wanted to keep that pickup WELL behind me. Maybe that driver knew something I didn’t know, maybe those wise old ranchers are just flat out smarter than me, but to my eye, it looked like those hay bales were eyeing freedom, baby.

About 30 seconds after the pickup got onto the interstate and up to top speed, the twine must have broke, because hay bales EXPLODED off the back of that truck, raining down on the road and the cars that were right behind him. Kaboom! 

Now, here’s the kicker.

By that time, I was about a half mile ahead of the action. I couldn’t exactly turn around on the interstate and go back, and that stretch of road has few offramps. There was plenty of traffic behind the scene, so I wasn’t concerned that people weren’t gonna stop. Fact it, people weren’t going to have a choice but to stop until the road got cleared.

I saw the hay explode off the pickup bed, and I had seen that there were several cars immediately behind the pickup right before it happened, and then the road was obstructed by a mountain of hay.

The pickup truck KEPT GOING. Never even slowed. Those bales came off and detonated on cars and highway like depth charges on dry land, and that bastard just kept right on going.

You understand, I’m not recounting all the times I’ve seen people driving the wrong way on a highway, or doing U-turns in the middle of the highway, or anything like that. I saw that stuff so often that it’s not even worth mentioning.

No, what blows my mind is knowing that each one of these incidents and others just like them represent someone thinking, “This sounds like a good idea”, then spending time and sweat muscling that crap up there onto their vehicles, lashing it down, looking at it and thinking “Yep, that will be just fine”, and then going out on the road like that!

For something like going the wrong way, hey, it can take a millisecond distraction, didn’t see a sign, and boom, wrong way on the road. Then yo’re just trying like hell to get back off without dying.

For these, there were multiple opportunities for sense to smack them in the face. Plenty of chances to stop, take a good long look, and say to themselves, “You know… that kinda looks stupid. Maybe I need to rethink this plan.”

What scares me most is the idea that the next thought they had was, “Nah, fuck it. If something happens and someone else dies, what do I care?”

Just, really… WTF R U THINKING?

16 Responses to “Tales from the Truckstop: WTF R U Thinking?”
  1. idfriendly says:

    When I was a teenager back in the late eighties, my parents hired a contractor to build them a new house. One day, I went with my Dad to pick up a shower/tub combo for the bathroom. My Dad was always trying to save money. Why dig the footer when we can do it ourselves…by hand (true story!)! And why have the store deliver the shower when we can haul it ourselves? Dad actually did have a small Chevy S-10, so he had the guys at the store load it into the back of the truck. It could only sit upright; it was too tall to either lay flat or on its side longways. Well, Dad didn’t think there was any need to tie it down. It was so heavy, he said, there was no way in hell that it could go anywhere. We didn’t even make it more than a few miles. We were driving through the three-lane downtown area of our town at about 35MPH when the wind caught the shower and whipped it out of the back of the truck. I looked back when I felt it go, and what I saw was cars swerving left and right as the shower hit the road once, bounced into the next lane, bounced again, all the while breaking apart. Dad didn’t keep driving. He stopped and gave his insurance info to the other drivers hit with shrapnel. When the shower first blew out, I heard him express an expletive or two, but otherwise he was absolutely quiet as we drove back to the store to purchase another shower–which he arranged to be delivered. I know he must have been embarrassed by his stupidity. He was probably also feeling the sting of being out a sizable chunk of money. Expensive lesson learned.

  2. Iggledorf says:

    Whenever i hear, read or see these kind of WTF situations, I honestly cant think anything other than WTF adn i always want to ask ” ….and what did you learn??” Knowing full well in some situations it wont help at all *sigh*

  3. Tesh says:

    The trouble with this sort of person isn’t so much that they are flirting with Darwin Award territory, it’s that they are risking other people.

    I will never understand how the brains in those people work.

    • Klepsacovic says:

      Self-interest. They’re looking out for themselves. What can you do about these situations? They don’t care about the harm they cause to others, or don’t notice. We could write laws for it, but I get a bit nervous when we try to legislate away stupidity. As for active disregard, well anyone who needs a law to stop them is probably figuring out a way around it. Sadly, our capital punishment system is all bogged down with jealous murders and robberies gone wrong rather than Mr or Mrs “I don’t care if I kill a dozen people with my driving.”

      • Babb says:

        I wouldn’t call it self interest….I’d actually say its the opposite.

        People have a tendency to think that acting in self interest means ‘damn the other guy’ but logically acting in one’s self interest would include not putting yourself in positions where you have a high probability of causing harm to others through gross negligence…considering that damages, lawsuits, etc are all quite expensive. Not really what I would consider looking out for #1.

  4. Minos says:

    That reminds me of when I got caught in the aftermath of one of those failed loads a few years back. I was actually just the passenger. As my friend was driving, the car in front of us suddenly swerved, revealing a mattress in our lane. Given less time to react, we hit the mattresses square on. Then the car got sluggish and we heard a flapping. Aw crap, a flat, right? But after my friend managed to pull up a convenient off ramp, I saw that all the tires were fine but the matress was wedged perfectly between the front and rear tires. He juked the car back and forth a few times, as if stuck in the snow, but couldn’t get off the mattress. Eventually I got the idea to stand on the foot or so of mattress sticking out from the side of the car, and he drove right off it.

    After we satisfied ourselves that there was no damage to the car, we tossed the mattress onto the lawn of the office building next to the offramp. I thought the whole situation was hilarious, but my friend was not amused. All’s well that ends well, though, except for whoever had to haul a ruined mattress into a dumpster the next day and for whoever lost it in the first place.

  5. lokyst says:

    I would just like to add that I am very thankful for the awareness of good truck drivers.

    At the start of this year, shortly after a heavy snowfall, I found myself driving in my little Mazda in cottage country up in Canada. Only one lane of the highway was clear, and the cleared road itself was still fairly slick to point where everybody was driving 60kmph (I think that’s 40mph) or under. Suddenly the traffic started backing up at the turn-off ahead and, while I did not slam on the breaks, I had to come to a unexpected stop. Fortunately, I had plenty of room in front and behind me, but after I stopped I noticed that the huge truck behind was still travelling that little bit too fast to be able to stop in time. At the last moment he swerved into the uncleared lane and trundled along.

    I could argue that he was travelling too fast, but mostly I’m grateful that he had enough awareness to get into that other lane smoothly. :)

  6. Rades says:

    I remember hearing horror stories about jerks boxing people in, then forcing a rear-end collision so they could sue you. In fact I think I even remember some adult telling me this as a youth as sage advice to beware of in my driving career. I really hope this isn’t possible, ANYWHERE, anymore.

    As far as the worst I’ve seen, it’s a mattress on the roof story! Smallish car, with a mattress at least as wide as the car (possibly slightly wider), on the highway. No straps or rope though – no, this mattress was being secured by the driver and passenger REACHING OUT THEIR WINDOWS and HOLDING THE MATTRESS. Needless to say I got the hell away from those guys as soon as possible.

  7. stubborn says:

    There’s an excellent quote from the book “The Sparrow” that goes (this may not be word perfect) “Every great disaster starts as a small decision that seemed like a good idea at the time.” I love this quote.

    That said, I think South Carolina still has the rear-end fault law. I know that it did a few years ago when I lived there, and my parents are still there (and they call about every single tiny thing), so I think it would’ve come up if they changed it.

  8. Musical says:

    One of the dumb things I noticed coming back through California was that people would pass using the shoulder. Often. The law states that if you are towing, you cannot go over 55mph. Well, at the time I was towing a UHaul with a stock Subaru Impreza. Impressive that the car handled it was well as it did, but that was beside the point.

    Well, one guy decided he was going to pass this semi on the shoulder – yes, to the right. At that point, the semi decided he was going to take that particular exit to get off the highway. The initial guy was very lucky to not be hit. Thankfully, because there was nowhere for me to go, UHaul and all. It was just far too packed.

    But the truck with hay bales story wins all.

  9. Blackbear says:

    Hiya BBB! Guess who? I read this article and just had to comment on it.

    I was driving to Charlotte on 85 south with some family. I had rented a mini-van to bus them down there. South of Salisbury, I came upon an old lady, driving her older model Lincoln Town Car, in the fast lane, in REVERSE. Apparently she had just missed her exit from the interstate and decided that the best course of action for her was to come to a complete stop in the fast lane, put the car in reverse, and try to back up the entrance ramp onto the interstate, and then proceed from there. I nearly lost control swerving to avoid hitting her car, as did practically every driver in that area at the time. Fortunately, one of those drivers happened to be a member of the NC State Highway Patrol and promptly put an end to the madness. I didn’t find out why she was driving in reverse on the interstate until later when I read an article in a local newspaper about the incident. Unbelievably, no one was injured from this.

    Amazing, isn’t it? I often wonder about a person’s thought process when they make a decision like that. I’ve yet to figure it out.

    -BB

  10. Chayse says:

    Nice driving stories. Here’s my best:

    On my motorcycle, south bound on the Baltimore-Washington parkway, in the left lane at 70mph, topped the crest of the hill just past an off-ramp and what do I see, but a car (small 4 door, happened too fast to see what it was) in reverse in the left lane not 100 feet in front of me (I can only assume he missed his exit). Went for the shoulder, as I drive like you BBB and always have a way out of a bad situation. On the horn, cussing and yelling at the MF’er. Unbelievable. he’s lucky I wasn’t driving my full-size Chevy pick-up. I’d have not been able to avoid him, and at that speed, I’m pretty sure the kids in the back seat wouldn’t have survived the impact, and doubt that I would have (before air bags were in trucks).

    Stay safe and keep the greasy side down.

  11. Razorbax says:

    The road is full of idiots. One morning on the way to work, the freeway was jammed up, which was unusual, so i figured there was an accident ahead.
    About 3 miles and 30 minutes later, I saw the accident….. In the opposite lanes.

    Magically the traffic cleared straight away.
    Good old rubbernecks need to have a look…..

  12. Paona says:

    Oh, man. Don’t get me started on the stories of atrocious drivers I’ve seen in my (assuredly short) lifespan.

    I mean, just today, some douchenozzle in a Porche Panamera changed over into the fast lane, in front of me, then started doing the weave, and honking.

    Because apparently, I and the solid column of cars in front of me doing 75 MPH isn’t going fast enough.

    I hopped out of THAT lane in a jiffy. <.<;

  13. Liz says:

    I have lots of fun stories about driving on the interstate considering 1) I learned to drive in Atlanta and 2) I drove 35 miles from the exurbs of ATL to downtown for work a couple years ago. Let’s just say I’ve learned that if I’m near another vehicle that is missing a bumper/quarter panel or a side mirror is dangling by cables — GET THYSELF TO ANOTHER LANE. Any vehicle that is missing parts or has dents bigger than my head… Good indication that the driver is either horrible at paying attention or is just super unlucky. Either way, better safe than sorry!

    It’s really amazing to me the lack of attention being paid by drivers. One thing that irks me is sitting at a traffic light for 10 seconds because the igit at the front of the lane doesn’t pay attention to the light and hasn’t noticed that it turned green. I mean CMON how do you roll up to a traffic light and not pay attention to it!? /soapboxoff

    I agree with truckers who are aware. One night I was driving up from the southside of ATL to visit my sister in Gainesville, GA and saw a semi swerving around in a couple lanes. Of course I stayed back, but I watched in amazement at 3 other semis slowly enclosing Mr. Not-Gotten-11-Hours. It seemed that the 3 others were communicating to make sure that idiot didn’t kill anyone.

  14. Len says:

    ‘What scares me most is the idea that the next thought they had was, “Nah, fuck it. If something happens and someone else dies, what do I care?”’

    This is why I try my hardest not to speed (I’m not going to say I don’t occasionally creep over the limit) – I asked myself ‘could I live with myself if I had an accident and someone died because I was going over the speed limit?’ and the answer was no. Accidents happen, but I can be responsible for not making them worse.

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