On the Road

The perils of winter driving, or, self-inflicted wounds

December 12, 2013

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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.   


  1. 1. T [ December 13, 2013 @ 05:41AM ]

    Amazing how fast these people are going and people out of their cars in the middle of the road? Where is the common sense people! Good lord. All of their licenses should be suspended until they take a winter road driving test. ALL of them including some of the truckers were going WAY to fast for conditions. Incredible and totally preventable for sure.

  2. 2. Don [ December 13, 2013 @ 03:02PM ]

    I know that section of highway very well considering I travel it 2-4 times a week and the carrier I am leased to is nearby. That area is just north of Milwaukee with the traffic on the right being the southbound lanes. For some reason people run 70+MPH (cars and trucks) on US41/45 from Milwaukee area up towards Oshkosh. Honestly it is sickening watching the video knowing how easily it all could of been avoided.

  3. 3. expeditenation [ December 29, 2013 @ 08:53AM ]

    It can get bad out there.. I was nearly involved in a pile up on I-90 east of Cleveland just two nights ago...


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Author Bio

Jim Park

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Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.


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