Friday, December 08, 2006

Traffic Hazard

Last night, while watching the 11 p.m. news from one of the "local" channels in our area, one of the top stories of the night was about an accident that had taken place earlier in the evening on Interstate 80, on the eastbound side. Although the reporter did not state what milepost this happened, I told my daughter I would bet money, if it was on the eastbound side, it was at the 140 milepost. The reporter did state this happened between the exit at Kylertown and Snow Shoe, so that was my early indicator there.

Today, in reading the local newspaper from State College - The Centre Daily Times (or simply the CDT as we refer to it here) - had a write up about the accident, including 4 photos - and as it turns out, had I bet money on my theory of the location of the accident last night, I would have won a bundle.

This particular accident involved 14 vehicles - yes, a chain reaction accident. Fortunately, there were only three injuries and none of them considered to be serious. That alone is a blessing.

A year ago, there was a terrible chain reaction accident on I-80 - on the westbound side though, on the level ground too, not a hill or downgrade per se, which involved 50 plus vehicles and resulted in six lives lost too. Trucks went up in flames, cars too as well as some occupants. It was indeed terrible and shortly thereafter, PennDot staged a very large investigation to see if the highway itself - not the weather conditions - had actually been the main contributor in that case. (It happened during a white-out.)

Over twenty years ago now I think it was, there was an accident one Sunday night in the dead of winter during a snowstorm that took place on I-80 and also at the 140 mile post. That one involved 17 vehicles and three lives were snuffed out from it.

Now, because I live about 5-6 miles maybe - as the crow flies - from the 140 mile post but in actual driving distance it is about 12 miles - and because I frequently traveled this highway to and from work for at least seven years, five days a week, I am very familiar with that highway in general and with that milepost area in particular.

Situated just after you start down hill, after topping the ridge, the road itself has a slight curve leaning towards one's left which can create some issues for drivers, especially if one is not at all familiar with the lay of the land. Also, at the top of that ridge or crest - is a crossover point used by the police, emergency vehicles and PennDot crews. This factor - the PennDot crew usage of the crossover - can also be a contributor to accidents in that area because if the crew on the west side gets to the crossover before the crew from the eastern side, then travellers coming from the west may think because the road there is perhaps somewhat maintained, the road on the eastern side of the ridge will be the same. And that, more often than not is very far from the truth of the matter!

Plus, in winter weather, road conditions can change instantaeously - in the blink of an eye, a spot can turn to ice or a "white-out" can happen and reduce visibility to absolutely NONE at all!

And yes, PennDot's maintenance of the highways does configure in here too but that is a year-round issue and not one that should surface only as a winter driving problem.

Personally, I think many of the accidents that take place during the winter months stem from the lousy, inconsiderate drivers that so often permeate the highway.

One guy, interviewed at the scene of the accident last night stated that he had been travelling eastbound, at a speed of about 60 mph when he happened on to the accident but lucky for him, he was able to avoid crashing into any other vehicles. Well, gee I am glad you were that lucky this time but did it ever occur to you that driving on roads that have a slight skiff of snow, perhaps a touch of ice underneath too, that 60 mph might just be a bit too fast? Hey, I sure think it would be advisable to cut back a good bit on the speed there, fella!

Truckers always complain about the stupid four-wheelers - who cut in and out and around them and forget that those rigs can't be stopped on a dime. True enough. But how many of those truckers ever give a thought to the amount of spray they through off when they go barrelling through snow, rain, etc., and it comes back on the four-wheeler with such an impact that you become temporarily blinded by it?

Truckers and four-wheelers alike need to realize they bear the bulk, the brunt of the responsibility in the overwhelming majority of issues and accidents on any highway - not just on the interstates. Because the speed limit may be 65 mph, and you have a vehicle that will easily run at that pace, but it is snowing like there is no tomorrow - blizzard like conditions or even just light flurries - can both create mega problems on the highway. The spray from a truck, as mentioned above, can create a white-out in a snow storm just as much as the wind, when it is whipping around at 20-30 mph or higher can do and thus, that trucker who may be unaffected by things like spray from another vehicle has no business going merrily along at 65, maybe 70 mph or faster, during a weather event like this. And, the same applies to anyone driving a four-wheeler too. No need to throw caution to wind here because the road "looks ok" perhaps to you but around the next bend, even if it is only a very slight one, things could be totally different.

All these issues must be taken into consideration by both driving factions - truckers and four-wheelers alike. Having the road crews as coordinated as possible would also be a big help as would having the roads themselves all in exellent repair.

And yes, I know that makes for four variables right off the bad and the actions of the first three also hinge on how merciful or merciless - whichever the case may be - Mother Nature may be at any given time too.

Bottom line here is the only thing we - any of us - has control over is ourselves - our own actions, our own safe manipulation of the vehicle we may be driving be it one with 2 wheels (motorcycle), four, six, eight, sixteen or eighteen - it matters only that the driver of each one is operating that unit in a safe manner and when the weather is nasty, even slightly so, with every ounce of care possible.

So, if anyone is reading this and happened to be on the highway yesterday or recently during some type of snow event and you made it out and back safely, thank your lucky stars that you perhaps were doing your level best to be safe and that those you passed on the highway were doing the same thing!

Not everyone is always that lucky!

1 comment:

TechieR said...

Amen! Did you know that this is the exact spot at which Resource Recovery wants to put its landfill interchange? Imagine adding heavy truck accelerating and decelerating at this location with an ingress and egress. The whole think spells "more frequent disasters."

Have you considered writing to DEP, FHWA and PennDOT about this? You are obviously knowledgable about the road year-round, and accidents there aren't limited to weather conditions! I think if you just copy your blog into a letter for the agencies could help the agencies make more informed decision and keep travellers safer.

There is only so much we, as drivers, can control, and I, for one, have spent money on motels when conditions deteriorate between Pittsburgh and central Pennsylvania on I-80.