Beyond Landra Reid’s broken neck: A psycho trucker almost killed Carly and me. Tougher regs, anyone?

In Australia… an unhappy meeting of truck and car

Landra Reid, wife of of Harry Reid, U.S. Senate majority leader, suffered a broken neck and back when a truck rear-ended the Honda minivan she was in. Good luck to Mrs. Reid in her recovery.

The Reid incident wasn’t scary just because it happened on I-95 here in Northern Virginia. A psycho trucker almost killed my wife and me five years ago on Route 77 in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’d love to learn the fate of the automobile driver in the Australian video shown here.

In the Reid case, the trucker may or may not have been guilty of reckless driving; he deserves a fair trial. If nothing else, I’d like to know more about his safety record.

The driver on Route 77 was a gung-ho psychopath without doubt, and I hate the thought of his zipping around in a scooter, much less driving a truck many times bigger than our 1988 Honda Civic. “An American Taliban,” a relative of mine described Mr. Monster Truck.

Could deregulation in the trucking industry have encouraged MMT to throw out the rule book—an issue that just might apply in Mrs. Reid’s case, too? Deadlines and speed and fatigue at work on I-95? Whatever the case, according to Public Citizen, nearly 5,000 Americans a year perish in “truck-related” accidents. An AAA photo illustrating the risks to motorists, especially in mountainous areas, is to the left—also see research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

But, look, for Carly and me, and now the Reid family, this issue is more than one of science and numbers alone. It is also one of memories. Here is an adapted item—about our near-deaths on Route 77—that I wrote for the TeleRead site five years ago.

Deregulation almost killed my wife and me this week on Route 77

As you roll through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, on the way to the North Carolina, the fog-softened landscape can make you think you’re in the middle of a subtle oil painting. The other salient sight is monster trucks—solitary or in convoys; moving or at rest on the shoulder of the road; but mostly moving, no few of them over the speed limit.

Welcome to America the Deregulated. At its best this can mean lower prices for you at the supermarket, the result of competition, especially from independent truckers. But deregulation also might kill you and your family.

Carly and I found this out on the way to visit her parents for Thanksgiving. We had been doing an all nighter, to arrive in North Carolina in time for a broadband Internet installation at their house. Crosby, Stills and Nash and other oldies were blasting away on the AM band to keep me awake, and besides, we didn’t hesitate to pull our 1988 Honda Civic over to the rest stops and sneak in catnaps. Then we would drive on, invigorated by post-nap strolls in the chilly air.

Mr. Monster Truck as “an American Taliban”

Dawn started to break. A beer truck was straining to make it up uphill, so I guided our Honda into the left lane, thinking that I would uneventfully return to the right. What happened next, out of my sight but within Carly’s, was that a fool motorist pulled out into the path of a different truck and barely reached the road ahead.

To dodge the idiot, this second monster truck was on the verge of entering our lane and crushing us from the right.

Luckily the fool’s car was swifter than his mind, and he or she got away, unflattened.

It was then that the real terror began for Carly and me, an incident that would prompt a relative, himself a former truck driver, to describe Mr. Monster Truck as “an American Taliban.”

Mr. Monster Truck pulled within ten feet of our Honda and turned his lights on at high beam. He obviously wanted to pass, and I switched on my right turn signal, indicating my eagerness to make way. I expected Mr. Monster Truck to dim his lights back to normal; in fact, he could even have signaled his intentions with a few blinks in the bright mode. Meanwhile I couldn’t just slide back into the lane to the right. The road was somewhat curvy and rain was falling. I needed to watch to my right.

But Mr. Monster Truck didn’t care about such minuscule details as our lives—isn’t lack of empathy one mark of a psycho?—and the headlights kept blinding us from our rear.

Finally after perhaps a minute and a half with Mr. Monster Truck’s lights at full glow and his truck still just a car length or two from our little Honda, we reached the point where the road curved in a way that provided more visibility to the right; and I was able to change lanes.

Mr. Monster Truck sprinted ahead at perhaps 70 miles an hour despite the rain and the mist.

Faster truck, faster money

“He probably was an independent trucker,” my sister-in-law’s husband said. “It’s not like the old days. Now you try to drive as fast as you can to make as much money as you can.”

“Suppose,” I said, “I’d just held my ground and not moved until I really felt safe.”

“Then he just might have run over you and kept on going. You didn’t count. You were two people in a little Honda. He owned the road. It’s his road to do what he wants with it.”

A related topic came up, the trucking industry’s scarcity of bumpers at the right height to reduce injury to owners of small cars (the most energy-efficient variety). I wondered about the ratio between: (1) the actuary-calculated worth of the lives of drivers killed by truck drivers and (2) the campaign donations to the congress members overseeing the regulators.

I’ll confess I’m not an expert on the trucking industry and lack the time to become one. Furthermore I’m hardly anti-trucker and readily empathize with the independents, who, like writers, often get screwed. Certainly there are reasonable people within the trade, including the author of the following message in an online forum:

“…deregulation killed the trucking industry….you have to be nuts to run a company where you make only 1 dollar for every 97 cents you spend in effort..and in today’s industry..that is considered good. I read further below about a man’s son working his tail off for Swift. Its a shame you live in a truck and have no time for a family.”

So no anti-trucker rant here, just one against the events on Route 77, whether or not the 97 cent figure is accurate. I can’t resist  wondering if the anti-regulation mania—not just in trucking but in other areas—has gone too far.

Another site worth checking out: The Truck Safety Coalition, one of whose members is Parents against Tired Truckers—formed after a trucker killed four teenagers but didn’t even receive a traffic ticket, according to P.A.T.T.

Also of interest: The Skyline collapse—and property rights vs. human life. Very likely, for want of corrective legislation in the aftermath of the 1973 Skyline collapse, dozens of men died in West Virginia died five years later in America’s worst construction accident.

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David Rothman

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