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.
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?