Driving along minding my own business during the last 45 minutes of my day and I was looking forward to shutting down for the night. A series of unfortunate events in rapid succession changed what was appearing to be a nice calm ending to my shift.
I saw a truck over on the shoulder of the road with its four-way flashers on. I practiced the courteous/safe action and moved over one lane to my left. It was at this point my headlights illuminated a coiled-up tire tread commonly known to drivers as a “gator”. This particular “gator” posed no immediate threat as it was coiled on the white dotted line to my left. There seemed to be a high probability the “gator” belonged to the truck and trailer which was parked on the shoulder to my right.
All seemed well as the “gator” was sitting there soaking up the radiant heat from the pavement. (This action seemed perfectly natural as gators are reptiles, right?) To my left there was an SUV that appeared to be in quite a hurry as they turned on their right-hand turn signal. At this point the SUV darted into the lane ahead of me. The lane change by the SUV would have been fine if their right rear tire had not clipped the “gator”.
At this point the “gator” woke up and tried to take a bite out of the SUV’s tire. Unbelievable the “gator” ended up wrapping itself around the SUV’s tire. This death roll happened in split seconds as the SUV won the fight and slung the gator off of its rear tire. At this point the “gator” was awake and very angry. The “gator” leaped right into the air, coiled up like a snake. During all of this my brakes were applied as the “gator” hurtled towards my windshield like a guided cruise missile.
The lanes on either side of me had vehicles in them, this happened in a curve, and therefore I was only able for a split second to close my eyes to avoid glass shards. When my eyes opened a split second later the damage was done. The driver’s side of the windshield was shattered into a poorly conceived mosaic pattern. I continued to slow and eased over to the right shoulder with my flashers on. I got out of the right side of my truck and began to get the glass off of my hair and eyebrows while continuing to protect my eyes. I looked around for the “gator” and realized it had run off into the woods. It was at this point that I realized the “gator” belonged to the truck on the shoulder. They quickly released their brakes and drove off with the metal cords slapping the pavement.
Seeing that they left I had no opportunity to chat with them about their pet gator. What I did next was to check for damage on the truck which thankfully there was no damage except the shattered windshield. Next I moved the truck slowly with the four-ways flashing up the shoulder of the road. I did not want to move the truck but it was in a very unsafe spot, to the next exit where there just happened to be a Freightliner Dealership, to provide safe haven for my injured Cascadia. In the morning, they quickly installed a new windshield. The whole process of replacement was made simple due to the roped in windshield design of the Cascadia. While the windshield was being installed, I inspected the rest of the truck to see if the offending “gator” had done any other damage. Much to my disbelief I could not find any damage to my new Cascadia, not even so much as a scratch.
Which brings me to my next point of how all of this could have been avoided with the simple addition of a tire pressure monitor system (TPMS) or a trailer equipped with a tire inflation system. This “gator” came from what is commonly referred to as a virgin tire, not a recap.
This means that this “gator” was most likely set loose to terrorize the vehicles on the highway from an under inflated tire. When a tire is run low on air it causes excessive flexing to the sidewall area. This flexing of the sidewall creates heat. The key here is that heat is used to put a tire together, and heat will also take one apart. This particular “gator” had a portion of its sidewall still attached along the full length of the tread. It was obviously not a retread. Retreads often get a bad reputation for failure, when in fact they typically fail for the same reason as the virgin tire. The real story here is that under inflation is the enemy of any tire.
A TPMS system or a trailer tire inflation system most likely would have prevented this incident from happening in the first place. I personally have used a tire monitor from Truck System Technologies (TST) and a trailer tire inflation system from PSI for many years. Both systems have more than paid for themselves over the years by either alerting me to a low tire before it is a problem or maintaining air pressure until foreign objects were spotted during daily inspections. While I am a great proponent of using these two technologies, do not let them lull you into a false sense of security. It is still important to visually inspect your tires for nails, rocks, or any other debris that might damage the tread or the tire casing. At the end of the day a TPMS is much cheaper than the damaged created by this incident which only took out one windshield and one tire. This situation could have all played out with much more dire consequences and easily exceeded the cost of some tire pressure monitoring systems. Tire pressure monitors have helped me to do my part to control the population of nuisance “gators” from our nation’s highways. In addition, TPMS have potentially saved me thousands of dollars over the years by alerting me to a potential problem prior to a catastrophic tire failure.