Trailer Talk

Blinding Snow Turns a Trailer into a Tow Truck

A trucker unwittingly takes a minivan for the ride of its life.

February 19, 2015

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It's winter and it's a rough one in some areas of the country. With it comes highway white outs caused by blowing snow. They're bad enough in daylight, but in darkness they can be really blinding.

That’s why a minivan plowed into the rear of a semi on Interstate 75 in northern Michigan last month, and got dragged along for miles by the rig because with snow billowing behind him, the driver was totally unaware that he had something in tow. People in the van were scared, but not to death, and no one was hurt.

The incident was odd enough that it made network newscasts, from which I snapped the accompanying photos. (The label, "deadly pileup," refers to a tragic wreck elsewhere.)

My immediate reaction when seeing the image of the trailer and car jammed into it was, “That must be one strong rear impact guard!”  It looked to me like a Canadian-type guard bumper with extra vertical channels at the outer edges, and sure enough, that’s what it was. A detail identified the trailer’s make.

“It was a Wabash trailer,” said Tom Rodak, VP, corporate marketing at Wabash National, when we talked about the incident this week. We were in the equipment expo at the Technology & Maintenance Council’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. Music City was all but shut down by several inches of snow and ice on Monday, making this an appropriate conversation.

“The attachment outboard of the horizontal channel is an identifier,” he said, pointing at the underride guard on a Wabash van in his booth. “We’re the only ones who make it that way. We’ve been standard with the Canadian spec for a number of years now.”

American-spec underride guards do not have those extra vertical reinforcers. People at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, among others, think they should, and the feds are looking into it.

The story included segments of the recording of the 9-1-1 call the motorists made. They felt helpless as the semi dragged them along until state troopers caught up with the rig and its driver pulled into a rest area.

The story also made it into local media outlets, like this one.

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Author Bio

Tom Berg

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Senior Contributing Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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