October 11, 2011
We left Denton, Texas around 10 a.m. – an hour later than I wanted, but traffic was moderate to heavy on northbound I-35. Our destination was anywhere there might be autumn foliage.
In heavy Interstate traffic, I tow at 55 mph. I know that seems really slow, but I’m comfortable at that speed because I like keeping a generous following distance between me and the car ahead. Being vintage, none of my brakes are disk except for the front wheels of my tow vehicle. So, my breaking distance isn’t exactly exceptional. Coming to a stop from 55 is a lot easier than 60 or 65. Then there are the ST tires on my trailer that are rated for 65 mph. That maximum is only good under ideal conditions. My viewpoint is that I am never towing under ideal conditions, and though I’ve not had any problems with my tires that is likely because I keep my speed down, watch the tire pressures and temperature, and trailer weight.
I also like to drive with no music playing and, weather permitting, with the windows down. That is not what most drivers do. They drive with the stereo blasting away, texting or talking on their cell phone, windows rolled up, air conditioner blowing cold. Not only are they driving distracted, but insulated from the sounds of the road.
I used to drive like that when I was young, but when I became a police officer, I was instructed to not play music and always keep the windows cracked open a little, even in the dead of winter. In the early Seventies, police cars only came with an AM radio anyway and that was supposed to be used to listen to news and weather reports during blizzards or other emergencies. Not that cops didn’t listen to Rock n’Roll, but really the radio was only for official use. In other words, we were supposed to listen to the police radio and for sounds of traffic and the city.
People have complained about cops being insulated by their cars for quite some time. It’s hard sometimes to flag down a passing police car because officers are going down the road in air conditioned comfort (they have to because of the body armor they wear today), sometimes typing on or reading off a computer laptop, and with the FM radio playing their favorite station. It might sound like I’m being critical of them, but I’m not. I’m just acknowledging that it’s a different time.
But I had the driving techniques I learned and used for so long serve me well. A lot of arrests resulted from my hearing a scream, a gunshot, a window breaking, or tires squealing, and I saved myself from collisions with other police cars, ambulances, or fire trucks running red lights or stop signs when we were responding to the same emergency situations.
So, my driving habits are the result of a couple of decades of experience, and I’m so used to driving that way that I’m not comfortable driving the way, “civilians” do.
That paid off for me today on I-35. A semi-tractor trailer passed us with its left inner dual rear tire making a “whump-whump-whump-whump,” sound. As he went by, I saw the tire was low on air, and remarked to Patrice that it wouldn’t be long before it would blow out. I no sooner said that and we heard a remarkably loud explosion. Not only had the inner tire disintegrated, but it blew out the outer tire as well. The carcass from one spun from one side of the road to the other in front of us. I changed lanes to avoid it, and cars behind us impatiently passed us on the right, only to have to brake hard to avoid chunks of rubber coming off the truck. One of those drivers, talking on his cell phone, nearly ran off the road. It’s amazing how much less control you have steering with only one hand.
We avoided an accident or at least kept our truck or trailer from being damaged by the tire carcass because I heard, then saw what was going to happen. That is what defensive driving is all about.
Not just good driving habits keep us out of trouble though. Right after we crossed the border from Texas into Oklahoma, we stopped for a few minutes at the visitor’s center. When we came out traffic on the interstate was backing up. Four or five miles up the road, there had been a bad accident – a man driving a pickup truck fell asleep at the wheel and rear-ended a semi-tractor trailer that had slowed for traffic. It took the fire department an hour and a half just to extricate him because his truck was crushed and trapped under the semi. Amazingly, he lived, but the accident closed down the Interstate for hours. Other vehicles were off the road, on the median or shoulder from taking evasive maneuvers. All other traffic was detoured onto side roads and it took us an hour just to go six miles.
Afterward, I wondered if our taking a short break at the visitor’s center had prevented us from being involved. Our break had only been for maybe five minutes. Time and travel speed would have put us in very close proximity if we had not taken a break. That’s a matter of luck, not skill.