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.