I arrived home a few hours ago from a Thanksgiving spent 300 miles or so northeast with my family. Yesterday, I drove 170 miles from my father's house to a friend's house in middle Massachusetts. I left at around 1:30pm and arrived around 5:30pm. Along the way I was involved in two accidents on the road. One was nobody's fault. One certainly was. This is their story.
Accident the first: And we Dance the Semitrailer Tango
When I left, it had snowed for a couple of hours. Not too heavily, but enough to leave a good inch to two inches of the white stuff on the ground. That isn't in itself a problem. The problem was that the temperature, according to the exterior thermometer in my steed, was exactly 32 degrees Fahrenheit. A bit more in the sun, and in the shadowed valleys, around 29 degrees. I was traveling on a two-lane U.S. Interstate - ordinarily, one of my favorite roads for the beautiful scenery and gentle but noticeable curves. Yesterday, though, the left lane was mostly obscured under slush and snow, and the right lane was generally two 'clear' wheel tracks with snow and slush elsewhere. To make matters worse, there were an enormous number of black ice patches where the snowmelt had refrozen in the just-below-freezing temperatures - but underneath the snow and slush, it was really hard to see them.
So I'm going around 60 miles per hour, southbound. This is roughly the speed of the (sparse) traffic. I'm in the right (clear) lane. About a hundred yards behind me, in the left lane, is a semi-trailer, also going around 60. We'd been pacing each other for perhaps 5 miles, he staying just clear of the spray from my snow tires. Oh yes; I'm driving a V8, rear wheel drive sedan, with snow tires on. This is a perfectly safe thing to do, if you aren't hopeless at driving. People drove (at high speed) in winter for years and years before all wheel drive or 4WD was invented. Anyway.
We reach a gentle right-hander. It's not sharp enough for me to worry about car control (not nearly) but it is a blind corner, curving as it does around the side of a rocky hill. Because I know this road, I know that around the corner, an entrance ramp joins the highway from the right, on the inside of the curve. Although there is an acceleration lane, it isn't that long, and the plows tend to miss those, so people merge quickly. I don't know if anyone is coming, but no point in taking chances.
I signal a left. The semi blinks his lights twice, indicating I should lane-change in front of him, so I do. As we come around the corner, I'm maybe 200 feet in front of the semi, having slowed slightly as I moved onto less certain road surface. As the ramp comes into view, I see a Subaru station wagon moving perpendicular to the highway, about to make the right turn to follow the ramp and merge onto the highway. I congratulate myself on having had the foresight to give the ramp a wide berth.
The Subie reaches the turn. However, instead of turning right to move parallel to our line of travel, the wagon instead goes straight, jouncing over a slight curb and a slight earth dip, and plows straight across the highway perpendicular to the line of travel.
-I realize it will end up hitting the guardrail in my lane, and I have no idea what will happen then, but it's likely it will hit right around the time I reach its estimated point of impact. I immediately steer right, attempting to move to the inside and cut behind it.
-My car starts to slide, the rear end moving to the left. I steer into the skid, taking my feet off the accelerator and brake. After two wobbles, I recover, now aimed at an angle behind the Subaru but pointing towards the guardrail on the inner side of the acceleration lane.
-The Subaru hits the guardrail in front of me and to my left. I pass behind it. As I do, it bounces back across the road, missing my back left fender by perhaps a yard. At this point, I am attempting to recover to the left so as to avoid passing across the narrow breakdown lane and into the right-hand guardrail. I manage to turn left, but my car is unbalanced, and the rear continues around and starts to slide out to the right.
-At this point, the semitrailer BLASTS past me on the left, just as my car regains some grip and I start into the tightening wobble of the second skid recovery. It and I have passed to either side of the Subaru as it bounced back across the highway. I recover my front end, and the back of the semi misses my left front fender by perhaps two or three yards before passing in front of me (brake lights luridly red) and throwing up a massive curtain of slush and spray. I instantly lose vision through my windshield. My wipers aren't on, and I don't have time to worry about them
-I recover the car, and ride the brakes past their antilock limit, before bringing my car to a stop parked in the right-hand breakdown lane. I sit there, car in neutral, hazard flashers on, and just start to shake, hands on the wheel. My engine is idling quietly in neutral.
-Meanwhile, behind me, a car which had been behind the semi and cut to the right to avoid rear-ending the braking truck hits the Subaru on one corner, pretty damn hard. Another car, behind that one, cuts left to avoid the two cars in front of it and scrapes the left guardrail, before all of them come to a halt some dozens of yards behind where I'd managed to stop.
...the truck driver, running back from where he'd parked on the shoulder ahead of me, reaches me as I'm getting out of my car, knees shaking in reaction, and grabs my shoulders to shake me roughly while whooping enthusiastically re: my recovery performance and the fact that neither of us hit anything. I slap him on the back roughly, and we jog back to the main accident.
Nobody's hurt. The Subaru is trashed; hitting the guardrail pushed its radiator back into its engine, and it has damage to two corners from hitting guardrails and being hit by the third car. The third car has a fender pushed into a tire, but is otherwise OK; the final car has a 'racing stripe' scraped into its left front fender from the outside guardrail. We push all the cars off the highway. It turns out that the Subaru, while coming down the entry ramp, had blown its left front tire, which left the driver unable to turn right to follow the ramp. It's not his fault.
We all walk away.
Accident the second: Accelerating away in a haze of Schadenfreude, middle finger firmly extended
As I reach the Massachusetts border, I have been (for the past fifteen minutes) the third car of a four-car convoy in the left (fast) lane. We have been driving with nearly-perfectly maintained separation between all four cars, at between 80 and 85 MPH, and are all comfortable with each other's driving. Two of us are in German luxo-bombs, the lead car is a Cadillac CTS-V (USA! USA!) and the tail-end charlie in my rear view is a Jaguar, what looks like a late-model XK or XKR. The temperature has risen to 38-40 degrees, and it is snowing - thick flakes of it. Those of us who have survived the Vermont freezing zone, however, are scoffing at the weather - all that's on the ground is a very thin coat of water, no ice, no snow- so we maintain speed as we cross the MA border. Immediately, we run into slower traffic - those entering the highway in these conditions haven't just spent over an hour driving through much worse, and are driving much more cautiously. However, they are all properly staying in the right lane, and none of them are even misbehaving as so many Americans will by cutting into the left lane with completely inadequate clearance between themselves and the overtaking car. So the four of us maintain cruise, and are passing slower traffic with a differential of around 20 miles per hour. We drop back to maybe 75 MPH at this point.
About 5 minutes into Massachusetts, I notice headlights growing in my rear view mirror. Surprised, I look up, and realize that they don't belong to the Jag, and are growing at a rather high closing rate. Just as I'm considering whether to get to the right and let them by, two things happen:
-I notice that I am overtaking a red four-door at around the normal 20 MPH closing speed, and do not have the space to brake hard (especially with the guy behind me coming up quickly) to make the lane-change to the right. I start to speed up slightly so as to be able to get over as soon as possible when I've cleared the car I'm passing.
-The headlights in my rear view mirror dive to the right. Whoever they are, they've decided to perform a swooping pass on my right (blind) side, without even indicating the lane change. I watch the headlights angle into my right-hand blind spot, and a gold VW Jetta barrels up my right side. Just as he pulls nearly level with me, the red sedan in front of him (which I was overtaking) is perhaps 35 feet ahead of my front bumper, closing me at 20 MPH and closing him at around 40 mph. He starts to cut directly left, into my right-hand passenger door. His front bumper is still only level with my front passenger door as he starts this, obviously assuming that I will stand on my brakes - or maybe never even seeing me, I have no idea.
I've decided there's no way I can brake fast enough, so I drift left as far as I can - not far, there's a concrete jersey barrier about four feet from my left front tire - and grit my teeth, preferring not to be hit with my tires already loaded by hard braking.
At the last second, he realizes that a) I'm there and b) I'm not getting out of the way, and he flinches back to the right - just in time to ram directly into the rear of the red car at 40MPH of closure. The red car wobbles hard, and by that point, I'm past it, sweeping off downroad.
I lower my window and raise my middle finger over the roof, aimed backwards.
Then I missed the exit for my friend's house and had to go back one. When I arrived, I had a large amount of whisky.
Iron Noder 2010