Like everything else these days, television – and the way we watch television – is changing. And more often than not, I find myself watching YouTube in the evenings.
For a Gen Xer raised in a time of three channels (four if PBS was coming in) and voice-activated, organic remote controls (me or my sister), it’s the stuff of dreams – the ultimate in on-demand viewing. Want to see some footage of Kiss rocking Cobo Hall during their ’77 world tour? Not a problem. Want to see a 30-minute documentary on why the Battle of Stalingrad went so bad for the Germans? Equally easy to do.
Lately, though, my guilty viewing pleasure has been a collection of big rig dash camera footage. There are several YouTube channels publishing these fascinating bits of footage, with Fury Road standing out as one of the better ones.
People have been watching vehicles crash into one another ever since some enterprising promoter in the 1800s realized he could run two old steam locomotives straight at one another on a section of track — and people would happily pay to watch the resulting chaos.
And these dash camera collections certainly deliver in the shock and awe department. Some of the crashes they capture are spectacular to behold – and serve as a stark reminder of just how much sheer force and energy an out-of-control tractor can unleash at highway speeds. Moreover, the skills displayed by some of these unfortunate drivers as they maneuver their rigs on the knife-edge line between life and death is incredible to witness, leaving you shaking your head in awe at their abilities.
There are some truly stupid people driving on our roads today. These videos make that clear in no uncertain terms. But, at the other end of the spectrum, there are some amazingly talented professional drivers who risk life and limb every day to keep our highways safe – even in brutally unfair situations completely out of their control.
One of the many things Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood taught us is that good television can instruct, as well as entertain us. Beyond the obvious OOOOHHH and AHHHH factors in these dash camera videos, they are not just a sobering reminder of how dangerous professional driving can be – but also a timely reminder to drive defensively and keep your head on a swivel while out on the highway.
Watching several of these videos has caused me to reflect on the art of driving today and come away with a few reinforced lessons that I’ll keep in mind the next time I’m behind the wheel of a big rig.
1. I wouldn’t even consider professionally driving today unless I had a dash camera system on the truck I was operating.
So many of the accidents these cameras capture simply defy description. It’s one thing to tell a police officer that the other vehicle simply turned in front of you – but it’s quite another to have that careless behavior indisputably captured on camera. People lie. There’s no polite way to put it. And having a camera is a driver’s best defense against false claims from other motorists and big rig-chasing lawyers.
2. Anything can happen at any time.
Especially when you least expect it. It’s amazing how peaceful some of these videos start out: It’s a nice, sunny day. No wind. Not much traffic – and the few cars that are on the road are flowing along nicely. The driver is making good time. The radio is on and all is right with the world. And then, suddenly – literally out of nowhere – everything is going to hell in a handbasket and the driver is fighting to keep his rig under control. It is sobering to see how quickly a calm, controlled situation can dissolve into chaos on the road – usually because somebody out there does something unexpected with absolutely no warning. When driving coaches tell you it’s the "other guy" you have be worried about on the road today, they’re not kidding. The bottom line is that if you’re driving, you can’t take anything for granted when it comes to other drivers. Maybe that car in front of you will stay in his lane. Or maybe not. There are no guarantees.
3. Staying out ahead of the vehicle is critical when driving.
I have to give a tip of the hat to Coach Bobby Jones at Tuscaloosa County High who taught me this pricinple in drivers ed back in the ‘80s. Turns out the coach was right — because for every accident that just happens out of the blue on these videos, there are an equal number that you can see coming – literally – a mile away. In many of those accidents, if you’re paying attention, and focused on what’s happening a half a mile or more in front of your vehicle, you can spot the behavior that’s going to cause an accident well before the danger gets out of hand, giving you have plenty of time to react.
4. The final lesson I’ve learned from these YouTube dash cam videos would make Coach Jones smile – speeding isn’t worth it.
It is dumbfounding to see how many car and truck drivers routinely go far too fast for the road conditions they’re operating in. “That guy’s going too fast.” I say it over and over again when I’m watching an event unfold, trying to guess which vehicle in the video is going to initiate the crash. And virtually every single time, it’s the car or truck going too fast down the hill, around the curve, up the off ramp or through the rain, snow or ice that loses control and starts a chain reaction that ruins everyone’s day.
As these collections of footage show all too well, driving is an occupation fraught with risk. Going back to the basics – defensive driving, staying alert, matching your speed to the road and weather conditions and – above all else – keeping a close eye on what the other guy is doing can all go a long way toward keeping yourself and the roads we all share as safe as possible.