Posted on 05/12/2015 at 04:10 PM by Dena Boelter
“I’m in a hurry to get things done
Oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun
All I really gotta so is live and die
But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why”
So the song goes. Always in a hurry with nowhere to go. So many of us are always in a hurry. That may be OK in some places, but never on the highway.
As most everyone in Eastern Iowa knows, we had a very serious accident occur on I80 Westbound late Friday afternoon, May 8. There was a truck fire near the 204 mile marker and traffic was backed up close to 10 miles. What most of you do not know, is that I ended up finding myself closely involved in the outcome. I am telling my story only because it provides first hand witness to what happens when a driver or drivers fall off their game, even if only for a few seconds.
The original truck fire incident and traffic back up was unknown to me as I entered I80 at the 225 milepost and was headed about 30 miles West. Somewhere just west of the Kinze plant, I noticed traffic was slowing. Then it slowed sharply. I knew something must have occurred somewhere down the road. I slowed to about 30 mph and settled in behind a tractor trailer. Soon after, a tractor trailer settled in behind me.
A few seconds passed and I caught something in the mirrors in my peripheral vision. I focused on my right hand mirror and saw the front of a refrigerated trailer emerge to the right of the truck behind me. I saw flames down low immediately. The truck had jackknifed hard left, so the cab was not visible until the trailer slid across the shoulder and into the ditch.
I immediately pulled over to the right hand shoulder and stopped. The truck behind me had pulled over, as well. I looked back at the scene, the cars, the bus and the truck that was burning somewhere around the tires. I knew I had to attempt to assist. I walked back and as I reached the truck, another two men arrived and someone said “where is the driver”. It appeared the cab had been stripped from the frame and was resting on its back. I looked up and saw the passenger side window was shattered, so I reach up and grasped the door frame and was able to pull myself up and got my head inside the cab. I scanned for the trailer and found him straight below me, wadded up against the rear of the sleeper, which was now the floor. I heard someone else, who pulled out a sleeper window. This guy turned out to be a trained Fireman and EMT from Cascade. We were both yelling at the driver, who then looked up at us. We asked if he could move, which he started to do. I then jumped down and we discussed how to get the driver out. I had doubts he would fit through the sleeper window.
The third man was at the West side of the cab, which was the roof. I cannot know recall the specific series of events, but the driver’s face appeared in the roof top window, which was on the West side and he either pushed the window out or one of the guys with me pulled it out. The driver then worked his arms out the window and we pulled him out and got him to the ground. Not to make light, but we probably resembled men pulling a calf from a pregnant cow. We then pulled and carried the driver about 200 feet West so that he was safe from the fire. The three of us remained with the driver until he was loaded on the air care helicopter, all in all, probably close to 40 minutes. The driver spoke very little English, or maybe could not due to the circumstances. I worried about the presence of anyone else in the cab. I had seen inside the cab and was 99 percent sure he was alone. When it comes to life and death, I would rather be 100 percent sure. All were able to get from him was that he was Ukrainian, had been in the U.S. 8 years and had 10 kids. These kids may never know how close they came to losing their Father.
I was totally unaware of time, but looking at it later, we apparently had the driver out of the truck and moved to safety within 3 minutes and less than 3 minutes later, the cab was engulfed in flames. We were also very lucky that although his injuries were very serious, he was not pinned in the vehicle and could move well enough to get close to that window. Ambulances and EMT crews did not arrive for another 10 minutes or so.
At some point, this accident will be sorted out, adjudicated, blame assigned and damages assessed. Of course, we know that at least one vehicle was traveling too fast and perhaps following too close. Maybe someone was distracted or was staring at the vehicle ahead, not paying any attention what was happening far ahead, until it was too late. By definition, accidents are some incident that occurs outside our control. Following distance and speed are both within the driver’s control. Recommended following distances are calculated based on science. They are not merely the favorite number of some unknown Safety Engineer. It takes ¾ to 1 second for you, the driver, to recognize and react to the event. There is another brake lag in a tractor trailer of another ¾ second. Nearly 2 seconds have passed and you have just begun to slow. Anyone who has seen an accident occur knows most are over in seconds. The picture below shows the lift gate assembly of a Ford Escape attached to the rear of a semi-trailer. This lift gate belongs to the SUV that you can see in the middle of the first photo. The truck is the one that was following me prior to the crash. How this damage occurred, but left the front of the car undamaged, is beyond me. How the car and driver were not crushed is beyond me.
At 60 mph, you are covering 88 feet per second, so in that perception and brake lag time, you have covered at least 150 feet. It then can take as much as 450 feet to stop the truck. In a loaded truck, recommended following distance is 6 seconds. I personally like 8 seconds, if at all possible.
Anyone who violates this “rule” is gambling, and like gambling, you can win for a day, a month, a year, maybe longer, but when you lose, the results can be crushing and life altering.
All the people involved in this crash woke up Friday morning, thinking and planning various things, but what occurred probably never entered their minds as a possible end to the day.
At Don Hummer Trucking, we maintain an intense focus on safety and it has paid off. As a fleet, we have covered over 20,000,000 miles without a DOT reportable accident. No pun intended, but performance like that does not happen by accident. It requires focus on what you are doing at all times as well as self-awareness, and knowledge of how to drive safely. Our drivers and our Safety Department deserve much credit for this performance.
All drivers, particularly professional drivers, need to be mindful of following distance, the reasons for it and what can happen if you do not maintain safe following distance. If you do not know what 6 to 8 seconds of following distance is, it is about 530 feet. To know what that looks like, watch ahead of you and when the vehicle immediately in front of you passes a mile post, count off the seconds until you pass the same milepost. If you are following safely, you will be able to count to at least 6 seconds. If you do not reach 6 seconds, slow down until you do. Get comfortable recognizing and maintaining a safe distance. After all, what have you to gain? If you follow at 4 seconds, rather than 6 seconds, you reach your destination 2 seconds sooner. Is 2 seconds worth the risk? I think not.
Real Life Experience Written by David Boughton