My subscription to Life expired, but I still have a subscription to Mad.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

buying the farm

I almost bought the farm yesterday.

I am driving to work on the interstate in the right hand lane at the posted speed limit (65 MPH), which is how I usually drive during the rush hour when there are a lot of frantic drivers on the road driving like maniacs. Another car in front of me is doing the same, meanwhile most of the other vehicles on the interstate are passing us in the two lanes to our left.

I notice the car in front of me momentarily swerve into the breakdown lane, then it swerved back into the driving lane after encountering the bumper strip. With that I decided to slow down and put more space between us. I am in no hurry, my exit is about a mile away, so I am not going to worry about adding an extra 30 seconds to my commute.

A tractor trailer passes me in the center lane. As it passes the car in front of me, the car begins to swerve into the center lane and the rear wheels on the right side of the tractor trailer catch the left front side of the car in front of me.

I can't believe my eyes, but I know that all hell is about to break loose 500 feet ahead of me and I hit the brakes.

The tractor trailer never stops. When the car hit its rear wheels, it probably felt like a flea bumping into an elephant.

On the other hand, the car careens out of control across the three lanes of the interstate, onto the center median, and comes to a stop on top of the man-made hill in the center of the median facing traffic at a right angle.

I lucked out and the car did not end up in my lap. There were no cars in the other as the car crossed the interstate, so everyone lucked out except the driver of the car that swerved into the tractor trailer's wheels.

My car came to a stop in the breakdown lane exactly across the highway from the car where it landed on top of the hill in the center median.

I had no cell phone to call in the accident. I was not going to try and walk across three lanes of traffic to see if the driver of the car needed help especially since other cars were now stopping along side the center median to offer assistance. So, I eased back into traffic and went to work.


I don't know what caused the car to swerve as it did. The car had a red, white, and blue out-of-state license plate that I did not recognize. Had the driver been on the road too long and was falling asleep at the wheel? Or was the driver distracted using a cell phone or an iPod, consulting a map, putting on makeup?

I don't know and probably never will, but that close call provided me with an education and I promised myself that I will never be distracted using a cell phone, iPod, ham radio, etc., while driving in the future, and I will be even more alert of the other drivers around me.


  1. Do you have a radio in your car? I know that on a couple of our local repeaters there are ALWAYS people listening out there and willing to place a call for you if there is an accident and you don't have a cell phone or can't get it to work. (Actually, the one I'm a member of has open autopatch to 911)

  2. Boy you read that right. I know how quick these things happen! Have had it happen on the Autobahn and on the Interstate. Spend a bunch of hours on the roads and you will see it happen.

    With others stopping you had no need to call, or radio. The post-event adrenalin and massive distraction is reason enough to refocus on not being part of a secondary incident.

    I can remember as child riding in the back seat late at night as my family was traveling cross country as the station wagon next to us gently ran into us as the driver fell asleep. Dad saw it too and was ready, and the impact was light.

    Not so many years ago I was startled to have a car lazily spinning across the lanes of traffic after they had lost control on slick roads. I had to drive off the road to avoid being in a head-on with the swirling car.

    Or when a truck lost a pallet on the autobahn taking out both my front tires at 120 mph, or having two large bucks appear in front of my Suburban in the North woods, or turning a haripin corner in the Basque mountains to find the road had slid away.....

    Be ready, it happens....

    Glad you were safe!



  3. Adam: It's a long story, but I have no ham radio in my car at this time.

    Steve K9ZW: I've had other close calls, too. I think I will ask my boss if I can work from home more often and avoid the risks of the road.

  4. Back in the early '70s I had a 2-M FM radio in my car. I had been driving around, using it regularly, for well over two years. One day, while trying to hear a weak signal on simplex, I literally plowed into a truck and even forced him to hit the car in front! What a collision. Luckily I was in a seatbelt - WEAR THEM, they will save your life.

    Later, I bought a new car and dutifully installed the radio in there. Because of my near brush with death, I was a little hesitant to use it regularly; however, I began to be aware of how my driving deteriorated while talking (or even listening) to that radio. About six months later, I removed the unit from that car and have never gone mobile since. While my reaction was admittedly extreme, please be aware of your driving habits and how they deteriorate with microphone in hand.

    I only wish this site reached the myriad of cell phone users out there, who by my own observation come under similar logic.


  5. I always use a seat belt and never use a cell phone!

  6. a couple years ago, I decided I wanted to start riding large-scale scooters (i.e. motorcycle class) And I started going to all the safety training and reading up on types of accidents etc. and that's when I decided it was time to bail from mobile amateur radio. I will admit I still use a cell phone periodically (about one in 10 trips) but 99% of the time it's with a headset which does help significantly in reducing the distraction factor.

    I have long been an advocate for headset use for amateur radio mobile because of my experience with cellular phones and headsets. But there has been a tremendous amount of emotional based resistance to giving up that big microphone in hand. Almost every time I've tried to talk to people in local ham club or ARRL representatives about this issue, it just gets blown off. At best I'm told "okay, just wire up a microphone but how are you going to push to talk" and the conversation stops. There's no interest in improving the mobile experience beyond that of a glorified taxi radio.

    Eventually, bailing from mobile amateur radio led to bailing from all amateur radio because of a whole bunch of reasons such as the attitudes driving microphone use. In any case, I'm a much safer driver and I keep the most useful radio I have, my cell phone, charged up and ready.



  7. It really is amazing what can happen on the highway when large trucks meet with small vehicles. Unfortunately, as a witness you had an obligation to report to the police or highway patrol what you saw. Even if it meant speeding up to the truck that was leaving the scene of an accident and obtaining the company name and truck number. All trucks have these numbers on the both sides of the truck. On the major companies out there, there is a phone number you can call to reach the safety department of the trucking company and speak to them. As a former driver, I can tell you that the driver did feel the car when it hit his tire. He probably left in a hurry because he was out of hours or was in a location where he should not have been. While the car was clearly at fault in his driving, the truck should have stopped to render aid. Even if you don't have a phone or radio with you at the time, the simple process of obtaining the information and writing it down would benefit the police and the person involved in the accident. You were the witness, but it was also possible that the trailer may have swerved a little bit and caught the car, I have seen that as well. Next time, spend 5 minutes of your day to follow up on this. Even if you did not stop, just following the truck to obtain the information and stopping at a nearby phone to phoen the police would have been a great help. And always, drive safe while on the road.