Be safe any time you drive, happy trails
By Ed O'neill, 17th Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 27, 2009
GOODFELLOW AFB, Texas --
My family and I just returned from a 3,500 mile round trip to middle America and back. This vacation was to a place that still honors family, God and country. Where you must travel four or five towns over to find a fast food or chain restaurant, movie theaters, and big box stores; a place where three generations of farmers meet at the local coffee shop early each morning to discuss the politics of the day, crop yields and of course the weather. A place where what's consumed usually comes fresh from a back yard garden, where everyone knows everyone, and helping your neighbor is a way of life.
But the purpose of this article is not about my vacation but rather the safety issues associated with it.
As I traveled down the open highways of this great nation, I took note of vehicles and their occupants as they passed by. I began to notice a trend after just two hours on the highway. By my estimation 1 in 8 drivers were texting as they sped down the interstate at speeds greater than 70 miles per hour. I saw driver's not looking out the windshield as they rocketed to their destination, but were actually looking down at their phones and I'm guessing using their peripheral vision to drive. The stats are even worse for folks talking on cell phones. By the way these weren't hands free devices either. One hand on the wheel, one hand on the phone and about as far away from concentrating on the road ahead as you can get. The ones that bothered me the most were the vehicles with kids roaming around the back seat. Yes, this is still happening.
Another situation I had to contend with was vehicles entering and exiting the interstates. This is of great concern especially when pulling a 12,000 pound camper. Greater situational awareness is a definite requirement in this situation. Most entrance ramps on interstates have acceleration lanes so vehicles entering the highway can accelerate and merge with traffic. More often than not the acceleration lane was being used as a "slow down" lane, because drivers didn't understand the concept of the "acceleration lane." I can't count the number of times I had to slow down to 45 mph because other drivers weren't properly merging on to the highway. I won't go into the ones that just skipped over the solid white line to get out in front as quickly as possible! Trust me, it takes a lot to stop a 12,000 pound trailer being pulled by a 4,000 pound truck on short notice. Finally there was the motorist that stopped in the white lined area between the on-ramp and the highway itself. The drivers were happily going about their business as vehicles sped by at speeds exceeding 75 mph. Keep in mind they did not stop on the shoulder but rather between the on-ramp and the highway. I was surprised they weren't sucked into traffic as they walked next to their car. By the way this same vehicle had passed me earlier doing about 80 or 90 mph.
As we drove through Abilene, Texas, on our final leg home we witnessed the aftermath of a serious accident on Interstate 20 involving two tractor trailers. The truck cabs were a mangled mess and burned to the ground as were the trailers and their contents. I have no idea what happened but it looked like it was a case of one truck passing and pulling in front of the other too soon.
Pulling a trailer gives one a whole new insight into what tractor trailer drivers contends with. The only difference between me and them is height and maybe a couple of feet in length. The inherent dangers of hauling that length and weight are the same. One of those dangers is the wind. The trailer you see moving from side to side doesn't necessarily mean the driver is weaving due to lack of sleep or not paying attention, it's usually because the wind has hold of the trailer and the driver is trying to gain and maintain control. It's like the tail wagging the dog. If you see this happening to someone in front of you, give them a little more room.
Whenever a tractor trailer passes me I always look at the right rear view mirror (of the truck) as they pass. When the truck has safely passed me, and I see the driver look in that mirror, I flash my headlights to signal the driver that it's safe to pull in front of me. Normally the driver will signal, pull to the right and flash his lights to signal a thanks. For the most part truck drivers will do the same for me, especially when pulling a trailer.
Well, there you have it, a safe but potentially dangerous trip completed without incident. My whole point is, always, always drive defensively. People don't always act or react to the way you think they should. Always use situational awareness on the road. Watch how you drive but more importantly watch how others drive as well.
Oh, yeah -- did I mention that sweet corn was in season and at its peak while I was there? Yeah, baby!