Friday, October 28, 2016

Close Call on I78

     Is it me, or do our highways seemed ever more hellacious than ever? I recently noted that CBS reported roadway fatalities are up by about 18 percent over the past two years, because of speeding, distracted driving, and driving under the influence (of drugs more than alcohol these days).

     We are on our way to Charleston, SC, where we will spend two weeks on the beach . . . and perhaps a little time looking for our retirement home as well. We know that I95 is a horrible place to drive, especially in Delaware, Maryland and down to Washington, DC. So we came up with the idea of traveling west through Pennsylvania on I78 and then south on I81.

     Not a good idea. I78 is a major truck route, and the trucks these days seem worse than ever. It used to be you could count on the trucks plodding slowly uphill, then barreling down at 10 or 15 miles over the speed limit. But some of the trucks must have a new kind of technology. Because some trucks follow the old pattern, but others can now maintain their speed uphill, challenging those slopes at 70 or 80 m.p.h. For the regular car driver, it's harder to predict what the trucks will do; harder to negotiate your way around those big behemoths.

     Adding to the problem:  there is construction on Route 78 (as there is on a lot of other highways). The speed limit is normally 65 m.p.h., but with traffic cones in some areas and no shoulder in others, the signs now post 55 m.p.h. Of course no one pays attention to the signs. The flow of traffic in my lane, the slow lane, is between 60 and 65. In the left lane the cars and trucks are chugging along at 70 m.p.h., with the occasional outlier weaving in and out at closer to 80 m.p.h.

     Truth is, we almost bought the farm when I got caught behind a slow truck going uphill, and merged into the left lane to pass him. It was the day before yesterday, a little after 6 p.m. Dusk.

     I was driving and had slowed to 55 m.p.h., stuck behind a slow-going semi. I flicked on my blinker, sped up to pass, checked the rear-view mirror, then started to move over. I didn't see the black Dodge Charger coming up to pass me at almost the same time. The Charger must have been going close to 80.

     A car horn honks. I see a black shape suddenly fill up my side-view mirror. I can tell he is braking because I see the front end of his car dip down. It's all over in a half a second; and I'm passing the truck with the Dodge Charger inches from my tail.

     I get by the truck. Move back over into the right lane. The Charger follows me for a minute in the left lane. Maybe he's been chastened for a moment by the instantaneous close call. Then he apparently switches back into his usual damn-the-torpedos mode, and speeds past me accelerating up to 75 or so.

     We make our hotel in Harrisburg for the night. But I am still a little unnerved, and I realize that my close call was as much my fault as it was the Dodge Charger's fault. Even though he was speeding, even though he wasn't very visible in his dark car in the darkening road, I should have looked more carefully, should have seen him coming. Good thing I'd used my blinker to change lanes -- at least that gave the Charger time to react.

     Regardless, B and I almost became a statistic -- one of those 18 percent -- for even with airbags and seatbelts and crash zones, I don't think we'd stand much of a chance in a pileup with a ten-wheeler and a speeding Charger.

     Our experiment to travel south via 76 and 81 is over. I instead cut back down a secondary road and catch the Washington Beltway going south to Virginia. (Also known as the Outer Beltway.) Traffic around DC is always bad, although honestly I've seen worse. It was just crowded, with cars and trucks changing lanes constantly, and a confusion of signs that can do nothing but perplex those of us who are unfamiliar with the traffic lanes of the Beltway.

     But they now have HOV lanes south of Washington, DC., which makes the traffic flow more smoothly. By flow more smoothly, I mean the traffic moves at all, and is no longer backed up for miles while construction closes lanes and redirects traffic.

     But honestly, I like the way they do it in New Jersey better. Instead of HOV lanes, they have one set of lanes for trucks, and another for cars, separating the ten-wheelers from normal folks in normal cars. The New Jersey Turnpike used to be a horror. Not quite so much anymore. Now it's a decent highway out of New York to Philadelphia and beyond. Unfortunately, there are no separate truck lanes south of New Jersey . . . or on Route 78 either.

     Now, if only they could create special lanes for Dodge Chargers rocketing along at 80 m.p.h.

26 comments:

Celia said...

Whew! Glad you two are safe.

Anonymous said...

In early September, Hunky Husband drove the very routes you mention - with me supplementing his GPS. It was a real treat - NOT!

Your comment about speeding during passing caught my attention. I, myself, just returned from driving a total of about 2,000 miles to the west of us (Near Wichita - Albuquerque - Santa Fe - Taos - Albuquerque - near Wichita). On Highway 54 in Texas (one lane in either direction), the speed limit is 75 mph and passing trucks and large RVs can be challenging. On one such passing, I happened to catch sight of my speedometer as I was moving back into the correct lane after passing: 95 mph. No way! My little 4-banger shouldn't be able to go that fast. (Well...it IS supercharged!) My speed was a bit extreme, but I don't wish to get caught in a head-on situation.
Cop Car

Olga Hebert said...

I am all in favor of separation of trucks and cars. I am sure that there are those who are also in favor of separate lanes for white haired old ladies and everyone else as well.

schmidleysscribblins.com said...



Traffic is horrible everywhere. Driving is no longer a pleasure. We go out of our way to avoid the Interstate highways, as well as beltways.

Snowbrush said...

I'm with Schmidley. Driving is something I must do rather than something I take pleasure in doing. It has become like flying in that regard.

Glad you're okay. Black cars should be outlawed.

Carole said...

Frightening! So glad you and B are OK. When we travel between NY and FL every winter, I always say that driving through PA is the worst part of the trip. I don't know if it is true, but the lanes seem narrower. And yes, as you point out, a major thoroughfare for trucks. I've had a couple of nail-biters and close calls myself, but nothing like what you described.

I also feel the pressure to keep up with the speeding traffic, even in inclement weather. Otherwise it creates dangerous situations, with big rigs bearing down on your tail!

Stephen Hayes said...

140 people move to Portland every day and our roads have never been more congested. I'm extremely glad you survived your driving ordeal.

Meryl Baer said...

Try another route driving home - the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-tunnel (VA), north along the shore, enjoy a ferry across the Delaware River (Cape May/Lewes Ferry), then north on the Garden State Parkway. Slower route, but fewer trucks and nicer scenery. Meanwhile enjoy Charleston!

retirementallychallenged.com said...

Yikes! Driving on the freeways is getting a lot scarier. Faster moving truckers, speeding cars and distracted drivers all combine to create a dangerous situation. We have some of those trucker lanes in California (over the Grapevine, for instance) and they do help. Please be vary careful and consider taking less-traveled routes (it may take longer but it's less stressful).

Janette said...

Shhh! Meryl- don't tell that secret passage!
Actually I love to drive in Delaware---but do not get close to Wilmington!
Glad you survived to see another day.
We cannot ban black cars though---my Mustang is black and rarely in the passing lane :)

retirementreflections said...

Great timing on this post, Tom. My husband and I are currently on the 1-5 doing a very long two-day drive (Palm Springs to Vancouver). Your post is an excellent reminder of the need for extra caution on our highways. Glad to hear that you and your wife are safe and sound.

Linda Myers said...

I try to avoid I-5 through Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia. Just about the only time I go there is when I'm on my way to the airport.

Tucson, where we live in the winter, seems like a vehicular breeze in comparison.

Glad you are safe.

John said...

Glad you survived Tom. Interesting what you say about where there was a speed restriction and everyone ignored it. In the UK if there are speed restrictions on major roads due to work there are almost always speed cameras monitoring the speed of cars. Everyone knows this and as a result people generally stick to those restrictions. People over here often moan about the prevalence of speed cameras but the research shows that fatalities decrease whenever speed cameras are installed. Case closed.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend using US 301 through Delaware - can connect back to 95 via 50 at Annapolis, or continue on 301 through Virginia, connecting back near Richmond - no traffic through the farmlands of Delaware, and easy in VA as well -

gigihawaii said...

Close call for you and B. I am glad you survived.

priscilla said...

I'm seeing the same crazy driving here in San Diego. Even my daughter (32 yrs old) is becoming concerned about the bad drivers here! It's frightening to get on these roads!

Snowbrush said...

"My husband and I are currently on the 1-5 doing a very long two-day drive (Palm Springs to Vancouver)"

Wave at me when you pass through Eugene, and at Stephen Hayes when you're in Portland.

Rian said...

So glad you survived your 'near miss'. Sometimes I think there's someone watching over us... as I always thank 'the gods that be' when something like that happens.
As for myself, at 71 I am definitely still driving, but don't drive on Interstates anymore. Part of this is because I'm no longer comfortable driving 70 mph, but mainly because I get migraines with aura fairly frequently and when they come on, I lose a good part of my vision for 10 - 20 minutes. Can't imagine that happening on an Interstate.

Cindi said...

I hear you about the driving horrors. Truck drivers are under intense pressure to double up, speed along and deliver the goods on time.
We tend to stick to the same interstate highways and not try new routes. We know I-95 like the back of our hands and will not change course.
I agree that NJ has the best idea of separating cars & trucks and the DC area is much better now with the faster E-Z pass routes (ka-ching! you have to pay for it however!) But it gets us to Florida & back safe & sound.

Glad you're OK. Thanks for sharing.

Dick Klade said...

The speeding truckers, especially those who seem unconcerned about safe intervals with other vehicles, are really scary. I'd like to see troopers out there writing lots and lots of tickets. That might have a big effect if the drivers are owners and also if the ticket charges get back to owners who employ drivers. The way truckers operate nowadays is completely unsafe for everyone.

Tom Sightings said...

Thanks to all for your concern ... and we did manage to survive. I traveled the Chesapeake Bay Bridge one time, but it seemed like a loooong way. I've also done 301, meeting up with 95 in Richmond, and that's not bad. We're always looking for new ways to travel safely, sometimes off the beaten path, and with as little stress as possible. But it's not easy! I would vote for anyone for president who promised more regulation, oversight and enforcement of traffic laws, esp. for the truckers.

Karen D. Austin said...

I'm glad everyone was safe. I hope that you are having an enjoyable autumn season.

Tabor said...

Glad you are safe. Roads everywhere are getting more dangerous. Maybe it IS time for self-driving cars.

olynjyn said...

I drive I-81 in Harrisburg every day to work and have been blindsided by light gray cars several times especially if it is snowing or starting to get dark. I wonder if you stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites off 81, at exit 69...if so, you were about a mile from my condo.

Tom Sightings said...

Exit 80; not far. The world is a small place!

Stephanie Waters said...

A near miss, especially right next to a truck, is scary. Being from New Jersey, I miss the dedicated truck lanes as well. A few of the highways here in West Virginia have special truck lanes, but only where there are steep hills, then the trucks are free to use whichever lane they prefer.

Stephanie Waters @ Chastaine Law