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Mon., Sept. 23, 2013, 11:20 a.m.

Expect an emergency

Reflecting again on a recent 6000-mile road trip through 16 states, salient points come to mind.  While the majority of those miles passed without threat of difficulty, certain events required emergency-readiness.

Successful drivers must avoid becoming lulled into complacency during uneventful moments, and adopt an “expect an emergency” state of readiness for suddenly-occurring events.  Drivers may experience emergencies many miles from home on Interstates or within familiar local territory on city and state routes.  Emergencies, by nature, take place with little warning — you’ll improve your chances of properly dealing with them if you are always in the anticipation mode.

The first reminder to embrace this concept came only three hours into my trip.  In a fury of racket and debris, a semi-truck ahead of me lost the recapped tire tread off of its trailer wheel.  Luckily, I was able to dodge the debris without incident.

But if I had been following the truck any closer, avoidance would not have been as easy.  It was also a good reminder to expedite passes past trucks, since the “exploding” mass of tread and rubber chunks from the left rear trailer wheel exited to the left before scattering across the highway.

Unfortunately, many drivers actually decrease freeway speed as they pass by trucks, which is not an advised practice for more reasons than potential tire disintegration.  The truck driver does not want you to endlessly ride beside them, as they may need the left lane to give leeway to vehicles on the shoulder.  Besides that, your visibility is severely compromised while aside a truck, potentially causing you to miss important road signs, exits or other emergencies.  Also, failure to expedite the pass holds up traffic behind you.  If there is to be any speed variance for the pass, it should be to a slightly higher one than you were traveling before the pass.

My next readiness reminder took place a few hours later when a rain and thunderstorm formed on a previously clear-sky day.  I was mentally ready, but my equipment-readiness was lacking.  This shortcoming was abnormal for me, since I generally change wiper blades about twice a year.  I must have skipped a change on this vehicle, though, as a loose piece of wiper rubber appeared on the passenger side, which became a major dangler by the end of the storm.

I purchased blades in Lincoln, Nebraska and was then properly prepared for the many deluges that followed over the next couple of days.  Fortunately, the warning supplied by the first storm allowed me to make the replacement before any windshield-scarring metal portion of the wiper arm made contact with the glass.

A subsequent road event piqued my readiness, but no emergency took place.  During another of the many monsoons, an “OVERSIZED LOAD” truck carrying a precariously chained 12-foot diameter section of pipe passed me on a curved section of freeway going over 70 mph in a 65 mph zone.  Some bridge abutments were ahead and I truly expected some variation of the I-5 Skagit River bridge takedown that happened north of Seattle earlier this year to be replayed — happily, it wasn’t.  I won’t admonish anyone going 5 mph over the limit, especially if that is the speed of traffic flow.  However, a semi with an oversized load should not speed during a downpour.  At the very least, that truck driver was obliterating the vision of everyone he sailed past.  It’s a miracle if he got his payload to its destination intact.

Wherever you drive, look ahead as far as you can to improve your odds of seeing signs of developing trouble.  Out on Interstates, you may be able to see ahead for a couple of miles.  Around town, you cannot see as far, but looking well beyond the car ahead of you to anticipate others’ actions and interactions is still important.

Leaving space around your vehicle is another good way to be emergency-ready.  I saw following distances of less than five feet at 70+ mph many times during the road trip.  That only works until the lead car brakes or hits something.

Drive per the Boy Scouts’ motto:  Be Prepared!

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at

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