I am not using “car crash” as a metaphor like “train wreck,”–this is a post about the fact that I have been driving the first car behind two different cars that crashed horrifically in the past six months. Both accidents were on the U.S. Interstate or state highway I travel every day to and from work.
In late September as I returned from an evening lecture on campus after nightfall, I was in the travel lane and was passed by an older car (like a 1970s sled of a sedan) in the left-hand lane heading southbound on I-25. The sled veered in front of me into the travel lane, so I kept my distance. It then careened off to the right, past the shoulder (to the point beyond which I could still see its taillights), and I saw sparks. Then the car reappeared, flying to the left back onto the highway and into the stream of traffic, when it then went flying into the median which (fortunately) was a steep uphill, where it then rolled a few times, stopped upside down, and the engine burst into flames. I pulled over to call 911, and other motorists got out of their cars, ran across 75-MPH traffic, and pulled bodies from the flaming vehicle.
The accident I saw yesterday morning was almost identical, although the car was a late model and there was no indication of mechanical problems. I was in the traveling lane on the right on state highway 34 heading West when a Ford Focus hatchback passed me on the left. It was exceeding the 65 MPH speed limit, but probably not by more than 5 miles or so. All of a sudden, it veered to the left into the shoulder and then the median, and I thought to myself, “what the hell? There’s no left turn there!” Then it careened back to the right across the road, sped past the right shoulder, went airborne and flipped into a ditch. Again, I and everyone else who saw the crash pulled over and whipped out our phones. Several men and women rushed to the accident to pull the driver out of the car. I wasn’t certain that was the best course–isn’t it bad to move people who might have neck or spinal injuries? What’s the best course in these cases when there’s no obvious danger of fire?
The odd thing is that both of these terrible accidents happened on completely dry pavement. The first one was at night, but yesterday’s crash was at 11:20 in the morning, on a cloudy but bright day. I have never seen anything like this in person in 26 years of driving until last fall, so it’s also quite strange that in both cases, I was the first car in the line of traffic behind the luckless drivers. Fortunately, I didn’t see any notice of these accidents in the news–which makes me think that everyone survived.
It is awful to be reminded how life can change forever for someone–or end–in an instant. It is also good to keep to the speed limit or below, and to stay in the traveling lane, especially given the insane speeds that are legal in this state.