AUTHOR’S NOTE: This bit was originally posted on my old blog back in 2009. I’ve updated and re-posted it here since it’s (to me at least) a good cautionary tale.
Back in 2009 north Georgia was hit with a series of severe storms. Hail, rain, high winds, and if memory serves a tornado or two. I had occasion to drive all the way across the state on I-75. Beautiful sunny weather down south, but as I neared Atlanta the skies were darkening and the wind was bending the trees along the roadside. By the time I reached Atlanta, I was in the midst of a chain of raging thunderstorms. You would think that people who live in the rainy Southeast would know how to drive in the rain. But no, they were sliding and spinning all around me. The rain was worsening and visibility was reduced as badly as if I were driving in thick fog. After one stretch in which I witnessed three accidents in about five miles, I found myself a truck stop and called it a day. I’m way too old to play bumper car.
Sitting there in the Pilot Travel Center in Cartersville, GA, I began thinking back about some of the accidents I’ve seen – and the handful I’ve been involved in. A bad traffic accident is something you don’t forget – especially that sick feeling at the last second when you realize there is nothing you can do to avoid the collision. I’ve logged about three and a half million miles in forty years of trucking, and I’ve had my share.
Don’t Cross That Line…
In 1986 I was hauling glass for a living. A “sling pack” glass hauler is a specialty trailer with a large rack in the center for hauling uncrated glass. As you can see in the image, the middle of the trailer is quite low to the ground.
I had delivered in Ford City, PA and was headed home empty. Passing through east Texas on a dark two-lane road late in the night, I was just humming along thinking about nothing in particular. I was meeting a car when it drifted across the center line and impacted the lower part of the trailer. Sparks flying, the car ground itself to pieces against the trailer, spun around behind me and slid off into the ditch.
I stopped and ran back to the car. An elderly gentleman who’d been about a half mile behind me and lived nearby said he would run home and call the police. I dashed down into the ditch, and here is this guy, about 19 or 20 years old, walking around the remains of what had been a really slick Olds 442. The whole driver’s side was basically missing. He had plenty of scrapes and bruises but nothing life-threatening. The kid smelled like a brewery and the back floorboard was full of Milwaukie’s finest.
I walked up and introduced myself, and the guy actually asked me if I had seen what hit him. I replied that yeah, in a manner of speaking I had seen it.
“Well, what was it?!”
Yep. He was that drunk.
When a Texas state trooper arrived he took one look at the guy and deposited him in the back of his patrol car. I limped on home, and the trailer required quite a bit of work before I could load it again. The Olds, I’m sure, was a total loss. Too bad – those were great cars.
Things That Go Bump At The Light…
In 1988 I was in southeastern North Carolina – I don’t recall the town – sitting at a traffic light. I was pulling a 48-foot steel flatbed loaded with lumber. Imagine my surprise when I felt a rather solid impact from behind. I jumped out and ran to the back of the trailer where a crowd of people was gathering.
There was this old Buick, a big late 60’s road yacht, crammed into the back of the trailer. The man and wife inside were hurt although not terribly so. But behind them was the little Datsun pickup truck (remember those?) that had hit the Buick hard enough to shove it into my trailer. The two girls inside were badly injured. The driver’s forehead had been essentially peeled back and the flap of skin was hanging down over her face. I eased it back into place and held it there to slow her bleeding until an ambulance arrived. The other girl’s legs were bleeding freely, the dashboard having been pushed down on them just above her knees. Both were unconscious.
It was about nine o’clock in the morning. According to a county deputy I spoke to a few days later, the two young gals were more than a little intoxicated (beginning to see a trend here?). I never found out if they’d just gotten an early start or were still drunk from the night before. I don’t suppose it matters at this point. Hopefully they recovered from their ordeal, and perhaps learned from it.
Butch Needs A Ride…
In 1980 I was still trucking in the oilfield, having not yet “graduated” to cross-country trucking. I was pulling a tanker for a large oilfield construction and service company in Palestine, TX. On this particular morning, all of the drivers were as usual hanging out in the “driver’s room.” This is where we waited for the various truck foremen to come out and send us to wherever they thought we needed to be that day. My foreman, a very cool dude named Gary, sauntered in and asked me if I knew where Butch lived. I replied in the affirmative and he said Butch had called and asked for a ride because he’d had car trouble.
I grabbed one of the company pickups – a painfully stripped down, no-frills Chevy half-ton, and headed out US 79 to Butch’s house. Butch lived right alongside highway 79, and so I’m sitting there waiting for traffic to clear so I can make a left into his driveway. Let me add here that highway 79 is the main drag through Palestine. A very busy road in the morning. Butch is standing there in his driveway, lunch pail in hand, when I saw him get this horrified look on his face. I instinctively knew what was coming. I thought, “Oh man, this is gonna hurt.” I was right.
This 3/4 ton Ford pickup plowed into me from behind, literally knocking the bed completely off the truck I was driving and shoving me about fifty feet ahead. My head snapped back and hit the rear window, then forward so my eyebrows could kiss the steering wheel (yes, I was wearing a seatbelt). Somehow, I also managed to yank my left pinkie finger out of socket. Never did figure out how that happened.
As you might imagine I was rather dizzy and uncomfortable at that point, and feeling like I’d just picked a fight with the wrong locomotive. I got out of the truck and promptly slid to the asphalt. The woman in the other pickup was screaming as if the Hounds of Hell were after her, so when Butch came to my side I asked him to check on her.
He came back a moment later and helped me to my feet. He said the lady had not one scratch, but was bawling her eyes out because she’d just wrecked her husband’s brand new truck. I was less than sympathetic, as were the cops. According to a motorist who was following her in traffic, she’d had a newspaper open across the steering wheel when she hit me. Excuse me for thinking perhaps the radio would have been a better option for getting the morning news en route to work.
She actually fought the ticket, claiming that I had pulled out from the shoulder in front of her. Never mind the half-dozen or so eye witnesses who testified against her. As I recall, she ended up going to a defensive driving school. I spent a few days at home. It’s hard to drive a truck with both your eyes swelled shut. Hey, anything for a day off, right?
During the busier parts of the day, the intersection of I-84 and I-90 near Sturbridge, MA. is a nightmare. I-84 is a free road, but I-90 is toll. Traffic backs up for miles waiting to get to a toll booth. In fall of 1999, I was creeping along, having covered about 200 yards in 10 or 15 minutes. There is this little import car – a Honda if memory serves – beside me. The lanes narrow down from 6 or 8 to about 4 or 6 (I forget exactly how many) before the booths, so people are constantly jockeying for position.
I was aware of the car. But I was already in a lane that would roll me through a booth. This guy was determined to get ahead of me. He was evidently planning to intimidate me with sheer size and brute strength of his vehicle. Interestingly enough, he’d had several opportunities to move to the right and get into a lane. But he seemed especially enamored of the lane I was in.
At about walking speed, the guy just drove into the right front wheel of my truck. The lugs chewed up his left fender like so much soft taffy. I rolled on through the booth, got my toll ticket and stopped on the other side. The Honda comes through behind me, stops and the guy jumps out hopping mad. I ignored him while I walked around to the right side of my truck to check for damage. Aside from some blue paint in the threads of my lug bolts, all was well.
The whole time I’m inspecting the truck, this four-eyed human hemorrhoid in a cheap suit is ranting and raving, telling me about his high-dollar lawyer and all his friends on the Sturbridge Police Department. I called the Mass State Police and informed them of the incident. They asked if anyone was injured. When I replied that no, we were fine, they said, “Thank you and have a nice day.”
I told him the same thing before I drove away.
Oops, My Bad…
Lest you think I am concealing evidence – I will admit that yes, I’ve caused an accident or two (and here you were thinking I was perfect). Back in 1988 I was in Upstate New York in some little backwater town. I was hunting a small pre-fabricated steel plant where I was to pick up a load bound for Topeka, KS. I reached a “T” intersection and was looking both ways to hopefully see the place (my directions weren’t exactly of Rand McNally quality). I spotted it down the street, but needed to make a right turn to get there. As luck would have it, it was a narrow intersection and I needed to swing wide to make it.
For reasons unknown, my common sense, experience and training all chose that moment to forsake me. I glanced in the mirror, saw nothing, and backed up so I could swing wide to the left to make the turn. And of course, there was car right behind me – too close for me to see it in my mirrors. Crunch time.
I pretty much annihilated this girl’s bumper, hood and grill. No one was hurt since I was moving quite slowly, and she apologized for being too close. But I told her no apologies from her were warranted. This one was on me. It would have taken perhaps 10 seconds for me to have stepped out of the cab to properly look behind the trailer. But it never even occurred to me to do so.
Amazing how dangerous even a momentary lapse of judgment can be (and the city cop who wrote me the ticket reminded me of this several times). Yes, she was too close. But as a truck driver it’s on me to be a better driver than the “civilians” in the automobiles.
Then there was Boise, ID a couple of years back. Easing through a construction zone on I-84, obeying the speed limit, and I thought being quite observant. I passed a car who was going rather slow. I was approaching an S-curve (where the eastbound lane would move back to its own roadbed) so I waited a moment before moving back to the right. Then I looked in the mirror, I saw nothing, and started moving over. The guy I had passed had decided to speed up and was sitting in my blind spot beside the truck. I didn’t hit him, but he swerved to avoid me and hit the concrete wall. Then he spun around, crossed in front of me, and hit the other wall. Totally destroyed his car and bruised him up pretty good. Since that happened, my employer buys trucks with the “blind spot window” at the bottom of the right door. Much appreciated.
OK, that’s it. Fortunately most of my days are not nearly as exciting (or painful) as the ones above. See ya’ll on the road.