I'm not at all keen on the level of surveillance we must live with these days, but I have to admit I like to indulge in a little voyeurism now and then. Traffic camera video (yeah, I know, I need a life) provides hours of entertainment, watching cars and trucks careen through intersections or roll over on tight curves. It all looks so neat and tidy until the offending car comes through the red light. Then it's chaos. No rhyme or reason comes from the aftermath, only a question: What was that driver doing or thinking while driving through the intersection against the red light?
The video below, however, is either a triumph of mass hypnosis, or a really sad commentary on how almost all of us drive today.
The video is a five-minute clip taken from a camera perched high above a seemingly rural section of four-lane limited access highway somewhere in Wisconsin. It's snowing, and the road seems to be what the traffic people call center-bare, meaning the lanes are still pretty clearly defined. The visibility, as you can see from the camera, isn't great, but it's nowhere near white-out conditions.
What amazes me is the speed the cars are traveling as the enter the frame from the lower left. Traffic is flowing slowly but smoothly until two clowns roar into the picture, clearly going a lot faster than anyone out there. From the moment of the first fender bender -- precipitated by the above-mentioned clowns (neither emerges unscathed) -- until the lower half of the frame fills with wrecked cars, the speeding cars just keep on coming.
More than a few of the more sensible drivers become victims of circumstance, creamed by a speeding car or by the second or third ricochet from a previous speeding car. A few daredevils try unsuccessfully to weave their way through a maze of disabled vehicles, also unsuccessfully. That only adds to the calamity.
It's worth noting that three bobtailing trucks enter the picture at an early point. The first is barely able to make a lane change to avoid a stopped car, while the next two come in at a very modest speed, slow right down to nearly a stop, and then proceed to navigate the wreckage and go apparently safely on their way.
There's no trickier condition than bobtailing on snowy, slippery roads. Truck brakes are designed to stop much more weight than a tractor at very slow speeds, so even a gentle application (ABS notwithstanding) comes with some risk. This pair of pros could certainly teach the rest of those goofs a thing or two about winter driving.
At one point, around the 3:30 mark, the scene starts to resemble a snooker table. Cars careening in all directions, only because they came onto the scene too fast and too close the car in front of them.
The video is instructive as it offers a glimpse of the dynamics of a multi-car pile-up. Most if not all of those crashes could have been avoided, I think, had the drivers modulated their speed for the conditions and left enough space between to take decisive and evasive action.
This winter is off to a nasty start weather-wise, so be careful out there. People are gunning for you.