I’ve been waiting to post this for several weeks. Our endless autumn weather in Nevada has finally changed to winter (thankfully), so I’m motivated to share and provide commentary. I had to search a while to find the original, uncut version that I viewed last month, which includes the car driver’s and passenger’s relief and exclamations after, as well as the police toward the end.
In addition to the oh #@!^ moment close call and entertainment value, there are some driver control lessons we can glean. I’ll name a few.
Watching this the first time, I immediately noted how helpful it was that the semi driver did not apply his brakes. Surely slowing down before almost running over the plow truck, fishtailing across the roadway, and nearly hitting other traffic head-on would have been nice. But once he was there, in that moment, steering the tractor and continuing to pull that trailer was absolutely the right thing to do (whether it was a conscious effort or not). Attempting to slow or stop would have been normal, and not succumbing to a natural panic reaction is easier said than done. Braking hard would likely have broken lots of things and people. But mentally and physically training ourselves can help in situations like this. There are many training opportunities that help teach this lesson while off-highway. Times when using the brakes might slide, tip, roll, or upset your driving platform, instead keeping a steady throttle, or accelerating is the right thing to do.
It’s not easy to judge, but the video car doesn’t appear to be following the box truck very close, approximately 2-seconds back. Two seconds was an accepted minimum following distance under good conditions, allowing for perception and reaction, until fairly recently when 3-seconds became the new recommended minimum. Even if traction was excellent, visibility was not. When the box truck pulled to the right and started decelerating rapidly for no obvious, visible reason, the car driver—who had been looking for a place to pass—accelerated, reduced his following distance and visibility, and started passing. Once the car driver had a clear view of the doom ahead, he quickly applied his brakes and stopped. This was a good decision, the video confirms that if he had taken longer to stop, there would have been a serious collision.
Even with good decisions and reactions, there can be potentially severe physical and metal reactions to such danger. Did you hear the car engine RPM increase wildly just after the trailer almost slammed into the car (after because it was a reaction, and that takes time). My guess is that because of the uncontrollable stress and almost certain contact, the driver tensed, muscles flexed and limbs extended. I’m inclined to think the right foot that was holding the brake spilled over onto the gas pedal, his leg extending toward the floor. Normal. It’s likely that he also had the clutch pedal smashed to the floor, a good thing. Don’t get caught up on the pedals though, my point is about the involuntary reaction and tension, and the fact that the accelerator was depressed. Some severe reactions can make it very difficulty to control a vehicle, and improper use of the steering, brakes or accelerator are the big ones.
Following distance, visibility, and sight lines are critically important. In some circumstances being able to come to a quick, smooth, and complete emergency stop is a lifesaver. Luck can help, but it’s better to practice and have confidence. Discipline, focus, and skill are not only potential lifesavers, they make routine operation of machinery (not just vehicles) more enjoyable and safer.
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Copyright © 2012 James Langan