March
8th 2011
Horrific high-speed, car-flipping crashes

Posted under: unhappy endings, weirdness

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.

13 Comments »

13 Responses to “Horrific high-speed, car-flipping crashes”

  1. Teaspoon on 08 Mar 2011 at 11:22 am #

    Yikes! Are you okay? Witnessing that sort of thing can stay with a person.

    You’re right that when there’s no indication of fire danger, it’s best not to move an injured person to avoid doing them any further harm.

    Just started reading here recently, but don’t remember where I was linked from.

  2. GayProf on 08 Mar 2011 at 11:39 am #

    Sounds scary! I am glad that you were not harmed.

  3. Comrade PhysioProf on 08 Mar 2011 at 11:57 am #

    When I see a car with one of those Student Driver signs on it, I always give a wide berth. A few months ago I was driving behind one on the Bruckner Expwy eastbound. Just as we emerged from the overpass above the Hunt’s Point drawbridge, the car veered into the Jersey barrier on the left, bounced off and careened to the right, slammed into the Jersey barrier to the right, and then skidded to a stop on the shoulder. As I rode by, I could see the driver sobbing and the instructor screaming at her.

    Driving is vastly more dangerous than any other activity we engage in on a regular basis.

  4. Indyanna on 08 Mar 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    Wow, I’m just glad this is a report by you, not about you! There’s no really good “book” on how people should, or at least will, react when trying to be samaritans. The sense of helplessness takes over and time seems to stand still. Fires can erupt with fairly little warning. Still, it’s probably best to wait for experts. We have an EMT/First Responder training program at night in the building where I work, so this is always on my mind.

  5. quixote on 08 Mar 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    Historiann, I hate to say this, but an intelligent woman like you has already figured this out. There are no common elements between these two events. I mean, think about it. Sled : Ford Focus. Night : day. Engine in flames : engine not in flames. And so on.

    The only common element is … you.

    So I have to make the only possible point: from now on, commute to work by pogo stick.

  6. koshem Bos on 08 Mar 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    Every day on the way and back home, I feel fortunate not to be involved in a traffic accident. Many drive wildly; there is a lot of rage in drivers (must be the modern car technology), many are ignorant of driving rules and many more drive stupidly.

    I wish everyone safe driving.

  7. Susan on 08 Mar 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    Seeing something like this is very frightening — because you are in danger when someone is veering all over the road. I’m glad you’re OK. I wonder if the one yesterday was related to distracted driving.
    One of my colleagues was learning to drive in his mid-30s, and commented that the real reason you should learn in your teens was at that age you were not aware of how dangerous it was to go 65 miles an hour in a tin can… He, on the other hand, was terrified.

  8. Historiann on 08 Mar 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    Thanks all–I’m perfectly fine. I just thought it was truly weird to see two similar accidents within such a short span of time. I feel quite ratified to drive quite cautiously from now on! Assured clear distance is a great thing.

    As Fratguy likes to say: “I am in control of the amount of space in front of my car.”

  9. DSF on 08 Mar 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    I don’t know if this makes you feel any better, but this has happened to me twice as well while driving south on I-25 from the state to the north of you to your fair city. I think people drive recklessly on those stretches of road because there’s little to see and they get easily distracted. Unfortunately I’ve also had several friends die in car accidents on these same roads. Whenever I return there from the big city, I always get a bit spooked both by the emptiness and the people who zoom by me when I’m already driving 80 mph. I think keeping a safe distance, a driving speed, and being aware of other drivers are really about all you can do!

    In terms of what happens in case of an accident, both times I stopped, the emergency operator told me to leave the person in the car unless there was imminent damage of the car going up in flames. And in both cases the EMTs arrived within five minutes. Both times I also felt like they were going to have to treat me for a heart attack on top of everything else!

    Glad you’re okay!

  10. Historiann on 08 Mar 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    DSF & Susan: I think distracted driving may well have been a big part of yesterday’s accident. I just wonder about the legal speeds here: if the driver yesterday had been driving 55 or 60 instead of 70 or 80, I think the car would have been more easily controlled.

    I’m sorry to hear that you’ve seen more of this kind of bad business on I-25, DSF.

  11. truffula on 08 Mar 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    I’m not a driver so I may not have grounds to say this, but it amazes me that there are not more accidents than there are, given all of the distracted driving, anger management issues, and carelessness on display out on the roadways.

    I have been hit twice while commuting by bike and suffered one major (solo) wreck in which the only thing I hoped for was that the SUV driver behind had seen me go down and would try to avoid the bump in the road. Ze waited until I had hauled my bloody self up and my bike out of the way and then motored on. One of the accidents was a hit & run and in the other, the driver had the choice of hitting me (not badly) or having the rear of hir car (with kids in booster seats) rammed by somebody making a high-speed, illegal turn. The person who hit me stopped and the person who caused the accident sped away. I was fine but the person who hit me was pretty freaked out. All in all, this is not bad for a lifetime as a cyclist but I see a lot of crazy stuff out there.

  12. Historiann on 08 Mar 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    I agree that it’s amazing there aren’t more accidents. I’m sorry to hear about your bike-car accidents–but as you say, not bad for a lifetime of cycling.

    Although there can be a lot of agression among rush hour commuters, I far, far prefer to drive then than at odd times or weekends. Commuters know what they’re doing, and they just want to get there and back. They’re all business. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both of the spectacular, car-flipping crashes I saw happened in odd hours.

  13. Jeremy C. Young on 08 Mar 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    Seconded what Indyanna said — glad you’re okay.