Last week I got caught in two significant traffic jams caused by fatal accidents. They don't have to happen. As a matter of fact, they should never happen. Both of these were on interstate highways. The first one was in a construction zone northbound on I55 between Lincoln, IL and McLean, IL. It happened in the middle of nowhere. A tractor trailer ran into the back of a car and pushed it into the back of a pick up truck. At least that is what I could see as we passed by southbound at a snail's pace.
It is an eerie sight when you are going south on an interstate and there is zero northbound traffic. The only vehicles coming north were ambulances and other emergency equipment. Experienced drivers know that we are going to see what we never want to see. It is a reminder of the gravity of our jobs. There was a helicopter parked on the interstate. When I saw the accident scene, I couldn't imagine anyone in that car surviving. More than anything it saddened me. How many lives were ended that day? How many were changed forever?
My plan was to take my 30 minute break in Lincoln, IL. It was less than 10 miles past the accident scene. People in the truck stop were talking about it. The north bounders were looking for a way around the traffic jam. The locals know the best ways. They asked me where I was coming from and how bad is it? I just shook my head and said that it was bad – really bad. I ate my sandwich and got my head back together then went on my way.
Then on Friday, I was almost home. I didn't see any southbound traffic on I 43. I saw ambulances and fire trucks getting off at exit 164 near Maribel, WI. The first thing I saw was what looked like a Buick Le Sabre that had caught on fire and was badly damaged. There was just emergency vehicle with it. About a mile north there were at least three vehicles involved in another accident. It was another fatality accident. A mile past that there was another 3 vehicle accident. It was bad, but not as bad as the first one.
They were routing cars off the interstate at the Denmark exit 171. Vehicles between that accident and the accident scene were stranded. This happens behind bad accidents. It has happened to me. People will invariably ask me what is going on. It is a bad accident and we are going to be here awhile. I offer them water and just say we are going to be here until they clear the highway. Some of them get angry. I say look, someone died, and we're complaining about losing an hour or two. They usually stop complaining at that point.
These accidents didn't have to happen. Someone came up too fast on either slow moving or stopped traffic. It seems obvious to me that they were not being attentive enough to their driving. The cell phone has become the most dangerous thing on the highway. Pay attention to what is most important – driving.