TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

November 29, 2012

A message for those playing bumper pool


The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — People driving along Highway 25W near Williamsburg recently may have seen this crazy guy walking heel to toe along the side of the road.

That crazy guy was me.

Let me explain. The day before I was driving between Corbin and Williamsburg and ended up in a line of traffic.

It was late in the day, and the sun was sort of blinding me — as a result, I was trying to stay back from the big white truck in front of me.

I never saw a brake light.

I never saw a turn signal.

But I noticed nearly too late that the truck had completely stopped.

I jammed down on the brakes, instantly hearing my new tires screeching along the asphalt. I held the wheel to the right so I didn’t skid into oncoming traffic, and barely — I mean, barely — came to a stop in time.

I was partly lucky — but I was partly smart too in that I wasn’t following too closely.

That’s what I’d like to address — following too closely.

We’ve all spotted the bumper stickers on various vehicles “politely” asking the drivers behind them to back off.

But far too often you can cruise along any roadway, whether it’s the interstate, a state highway, a road through town or even a residential neighborhood, and witness somebody crawling up someone’s bumper.

A couple months ago I was in rush hour traffic in Johnson City, Tenn. Drivers were playing “I wanna be first” and darting in between cars. We were hit with another red light, and as I was easing to a stop, I glanced behind me and knew what was coming.

This woman had been behind me for a half mile or so and she was prattling away on her cell phone with her left hand and fiddling with radio dials with her right.

I braced myself for the inevitable.

She thunked into the back end, making my car lurch forward.

No one hurt, but she left a nice little patterned dent on the back bumper.

I can’t sit here and say I have never tailgated. Most drivers have at one time or another, whether intentional or not. Most drivers get lucky and get away with it.

But not always. A couple years ago I was in stop-and-go traffic on State Street in Bristol, Va. I was grumbling about traffic, and suddenly I was wracked with a sneeze fit — three in a row. I usually get pretty physically involved with a sneeze, and by the time I recovered from the third one, it was too late.

I threw my foot down on the brakes, but this time nailed the stopped vehicle in front of me. Not much damage, no injuries, but guess what — I received not only a ripped corner panel on the front bumper, but I earned a pricey citation for following too closely.

Which then earned me a nice, fat increase in my car insurance.

What fun. So I got an expensive refresher course on tailgating and the reasons why it’s a bad idea.

But about 10 years ago I should’ve gotten that lesson learned for a lifetime.

Before I took a job in East Tennessee, I had accepted a position at a paper in central Pennsylvania. My aunt lives near Harrisburg, and I was staying with her while I looked for a place to live in York, which is about 30 minutes south of the state’s capital.

The first day I prepared to look, I planned to leave my aunt’s house about 8 a.m.

But one of those weird sixth sense things kicked in, and I got lazy and hooked on to some TV show. I knew I needed to go, but I just kept not getting with it.

I finally felt ok to leave about 9 a.m. or so. The road I planned to take was I-83, which would take me right to York.

But about 15 minutes into the drive on the six-lane interstate, all three lanes of traffic on my side were stopped.

Time dragged by, and we were only getting a couple feet ahead every 15-20 minutes or so. After 45 minutes and maybe two-tenths of a mile later, we could see state police were directing three lanes of traffic onto a little bitty exit with a two-lane, no-yellow-line road to detour us around the problem.

The next morning, I saw what caused the problem.

I picked up my aunt’s newspaper, and on the front page was this story about a huge traffic pileup. It involved several cars and tractor trailers.

But the picture which appeared with the story haunts me to this day.

In the photo you could see about 20 feet of the tractor-trailer’s back end including the wheels.

Behind the wheels was a fire-blackened chunk of metal. It was a truck, and the only reason I knew it was a truck because I could see the last foot and a half of the truckbed at a 45-degree angle from the back of the rig.

It goes without saying that driver and passenger were killed immediately.

Based on the wreckage, I’d say the driver never got his foot to the brake pedal before being crushed to death under the tail end of a big rig.

Which leads me back to my little roadside hike I mentioned earlier.

The skid marks I left along the roadway were pretty lengthy, and my foot is right at a foot long. I took 110 heel-to-toe steps along the skid mark I left on Highway 25W, meaning the skid was about 110 feet. Based on a skid speed calculator I found at www.harristechnical.com, I was traveling about 49-50 mph. That road’s speed limit is 55.

So let’s do a little question-and-answer relay, and I swear, it’ll only take a moment or two.

If you’re tailgating somebody, here’s the questions you should contemplate: Could you stop your car in time if a child rode a bike in front of the vehicle you’re following too closely?

Next: Can you afford several moments of your heart beating your eardrums if you ARE lucky enough to stop in time?

Better question: Can you afford increased insurance premiums or worse after you DO crash into another vehicle because you were riding someone’s bumper?

The best question to ask yourself: What would the look be on your family’s faces when a law enforcement official has to call them to explain you’re dead from a rear-end smash-up that you caused?

So the next time you’re playing bumper pool while driving along the roads, chew on those questions. It could save your life.

John L. Ross is a staff writer for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at jross@thetimestribune.com