Finally having backed up to a dock for unloading, I have a bit of time to write. We don’t do much live loading or unloading, mostly picking up preloaded trailers and dropping them off at customers so we see this as a pleasant break in days usually spent chugging down highways.
Refreshing the cruising kitty in the trucking industry comes with the occasional reminder of how quickly life can change. The sobering reminders this week was of traffic accidents; Thankfully none involving us.
The first wasn’t so much an accident as it was driver incompetence. Coming down I-5 through the Northern California mountains there are lots of steep, winding grades where a big rig spent too much time on his brakes. Used too often, brakes can get red-hot just like a branding iron and pretty soon flames will catch the tires on fire which are also quite close to the diesel tanks. This is what happened and all that was left was the truck’s frame.
“DO NOT” ride the brakes down a long, steep grades” our trainers hammered into our heads. We were taught braking techniques and later as we gained experience we found that being in the right gear and using our engine as a brake (we call them Jake Brakes), you should rarely, if ever, need to use your brakes on a downhill. All too often I see brake lights coming down long, steep grades and smelling hot brakes I wonder if there’s going to be a crumpled, smoldering heap at the bottom of the mountain pass today.
Accident #2 was bad. It still leaves an ache in my heart when I think of it. I-70 around Dayton, Ohio is a fairly straight road with hardly any deviation other than the up and down of a few minor hills. Earlier that morning I had been heading east and notice an overturned Semi in the median that was being offloaded and knew eventually it would be pulled upright and towed away. It was causing a bit of a backup but it wasn’t bad.
Returning on I-70 westbound that same morning, traffic came to a halt and I remembered this operation was in progress and figured this was the reason for the backup. We eased our way down the freeway inches at a time until we got to the choke point only to realize it was an accident; a really bad one.
A little red 4-wheeler (that’s what we truckers call cars & small trucks), was wedged under the back bumper of a Semi-trailer. Only the back seat and trunk of the car were visible. It looked bad and later we found out it was as bad as it looked. The 29-year-old driver had died on impact, his wife in the passenger seat was flown out in serious condition. The miracle is the 2 little children buckled in car-seats in a the back were both said to be ok, a testament to car seats. Apparently he hadn’t noticed traffic had stopped. No skid-marks meant no brakes so the impact was brutal.
The last one was in Portland on I-5, where once again stopped traffic and inattention causing another violent rear-end collision.
We seldom see a lot of bad accidents out here, mostly just fender benders, but the violent ones stick in our memory. They bring a sobriety to the job like nothing else. You sit up and pay a little closer attention to every nuance of driving, never forgetting the price some pay.