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There’s no winner in the Great Race on I-70

John Hannon

The Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2005 edition of the Denver Post had an account of an 18-wheel tractor-trailer truck falling off an overpass on I-25 and landing on an automobile driven by a 78-year-old man on Cast Belleview Avenue. The accident had occurred three days previously and the driver of the demolished automobile was still in critical condition.

This brought to mind countless times I have seen semis and other vehicles driving at speeds much too high for the prevailing conditions on I-70. I drive from Eagle to Avon and sometimes to Vail to go to work or to go skiing.

A Greenwood Village police officer said the 18-wheeler that became airborne was unable to slow with the flow of traffic and possibly could have had faulty brakes. I have to think that excessive speed would have been a factor, probably a main factor.

Every time I drive on I-70 I see semis, SUVs and extended cab four-wheel drive pickup trucks exceeding the legal speed limit or driving too fast under adverse conditions. These vehicles seem to be involved in a disproportionate number of accidents.

When driving home from Denver last year, we were rerouted through Leadville to get to Eagle because I-70 was closed in the Vail Pass area by several semis that had crashed in a snowstorm. In recent years, I can remember I-70 being closed because of truck accidents in Glenwood Canyon.

Just west of Wolcott is a sharp curve. Last week, I passed a large pickup truck in the ditch. It hadn’t made the curve. I supposed everyone living in the Vail Valley area is aware of the problems that are ongoing in Dowd Junction to the west of Vail.

There are several things that can be done to improve the situation. I think many SUV owners don’t realize the limitations of their vehicles. Most SUVs are four-wheel drive. The additional mechanical parts required result in these vehicles having a higher roll center. What does that mean? If in a skid the vehicle strikes an obstruction at or near ground level, the vehicle is likely to roll over. On a slippery surface four-wheel drive has virtually no advantage. In order to be effective, there has to be a softer surface, such as mud or snow for the tires to grip.

Pickup trucks have always been light in the rear end when empty. When I had a pickup, I always weighted the rear end with sandbags in the winter. Of course, the four-wheel drive pickups have the same high roll center as the SUVs.

There is a totally different solution to the semis. The answer is quite simply, slow down. This advice will not be taken voluntarily. So, I think some changes are in order. First, as I understand it, most drivers are paid by the mile. The faster you drive, the more money you will make in anytime period. Unfortunately, the only way this can be changed is by making it illegal.

Next we have the speed limit. Trucks over a certain size, which means all semis, should have a limit 10 miles an hour under that for cars and smaller trucks. Finally, the speed limit should be adjusted down by the state highway patrol when conditions warrant it. There are the digital signs along the highway and the in-cab CB radios, which virtually all trucks have ,so that notification should be no problem.

There are a few things we can all do to make driving safer for everyone when the roads are wet, icy or covered with snow or slush. Slowing down is the obvious first step. Allow sufficient space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. You won’t arrive at your destination any faster by getting as close as you can to the vehicle you are following. After passing a slower vehicle, stay in the left lane long enough that you don’t cover the front of the vehicle you have just passed with water, mud, snow or whatever else is on the road. If you’ve ever had an 18-wheeler return to the right lane a few car lengths ahead of you, you’ll know what I mean. It’s like you’re in a submarine.

That’s about it. Try to avoid driving under bridges as much as possible; those flying semis can ruin your whole day. VT

John Hannon is an Eagle resident and a regular columnist for The Vail Trail. E-mail comments about this column to editor@vailtrail.com


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