The horrific and tragic and I-5 tunnel pile up in California back on October 12 paints a stark black and white picture about the safety of this highway networks in this country.
All due respect to CalTrans -- California's Department of Transportation -- this particular tunnel has been a problem for a long time. Truckers interviewed right after the crash -- which involved 30 commercial trucks (THIRTY!!!) and countless lighter vehicles -- said this tunnel was a major worry for them, as it sloped down and came upon a blind left turn: at once creating the conditions where a fully loaded truck is going to roll forward faster, yet at the same time putting said truck in a dangerous spot, one where it might have to brake quickly due to traffic congestion.
I got to talk to several truckers who phoned in during my weekly appareance on Sirius Satellite Radio's program 'The Loading Dock' and those that had driven in that tunnel -- including Prime Inc.'s one and only 'Mustang' -- added that even a hint of rain made that tunnel's downward slope 'like ice,' making a bad driving situation that much worse. Though 45 mph is the posted speed limit for the tunnel, drivers calling into the program said many times they'd been passed by cars pushing 70 mph heading down into that dark abyss: not what you would call a good thing.
As of this writing, three people lost their lives in this terrible accident -- with 10 lucky folks barely getting out of there before a blaze ignited by gasoline, diesel and lord knows what else created a 1,400 inferno within the tunnel. Fire reportedly streaked 400 feet in the air from the mouth of the tunnel -- proof that this was truly a catastrophic crash.
So what to do? What can we learn from this tragedy so it never happens again? For starters, truckers complained about poor lighting within the tunnel itself. That's pretty easy to clear up. Second, how about electronic signs on those blind corners, warning folks to slow down if traffic is stopped ahead? Heck, if we can fund red light cameras across this country, we damn sure can afford warning signs in tunnels to prevent crashes like this.
And again speed is a factor -- slowing down both cars and trucks is a must in highway tunnels, especially as there's little room to manuever within them if something goes wrong. One trucker suggested an old tried but true standby -- put some empty police cars in there, complete with dummies dressed as highway patrol officers. That bit of fakery works like magic in terms of slowing traffic down -- especially if, every now and then, a REAL officer gets in there and makes some traffic stops. It's a cheap, simple, yet effective way to slow things down.
One thing is for certain -- our highways are getting much more dangerous. The highway bridge collapse in Minnesota earlier this year, followed by this tunnel crash and firein California, should erase any doubts that driving can taken for granted. It can be dangerous, even fatal -- something all truckers, as they must drive out there every day, know all too well.