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Driving on Interstate I-78 is like Russian roulette

Two fatal accidents in two days on the same stretch of highway going in the same direction make you stop and think that something has got to be wrong. Those of us who travel this stretch of I-78 regularly, like me, know that driving this route is a bit like Russian roulette. Cars constantly weave around and through the trucks that seem hell-bent on passing every other truck - even if it means that they slow down to 25 mph in the passing lane as they go up and down all of the hills between Cedar Crest Blvd. and the Pa/NJ toll booth. In some areas, the highway goes from three lanes to two lanes without much warning. Who hasn't been caught in the pinch point where it goes from three lanes to two (traveling eastbound) about a mile east of the route 309 exit. On a couple of occasions I thought I was a goner. Let's look at some very poignant statistics published by NHTSA (National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration). These guys are the nation's most knowledgeable accountants of highway statistics. They are also the nation's watchdogs for proper design, maintenance and signing of our highways. According to NHTSA in 2008, there were 4,006 accidents involving large trucks resulting in 4,229 deaths. One out of nine traffic fatalities in 2008 resulted from a collision involving a large truck. Pennsylvania ranked fifth in the country for fatal crashes with trucks, equaling 195 people. In the three years from 2006 to 2008, there were a total of 15 deaths involving large trucks in Lehigh County and five in Northampton. At our current rate, based on the last two weeks, we could easily surpass those stats. I am not accusing truck drivers of causing all these accidents. In fact the latest Morning Call report that the most recent accident was caused when a young man failed to yield as he entered the westbound lane of traffic forcing the truck to lose control and cross into the eastbound lane. Keep in mind that 24% of all traffic on our roads consists of trucks. Take into account that they are several times the size of a car and - well you get the point. A corridor transit study was completed in 2008 by the Jersey Transportation Authority that analyzed the amount of truck volume on I-78  (www.njtpa.org). The study published some interesting results which indicated that during the morning rush hour period truck traffic constitutes as much as 40% of the moving vehicles. This is in the area of our two recent accidents.       What can we do? I would suggest: 1. Let's all exercise more caution and awareness, especially at the on and off ramps. Does it really make a difference when human life is concerned who has the right-of-way and who should get over or yield?  We all know that the trucks rule this section of highway. Why mess with them? 2. Put away those cell phones and other devices that are just plain distracting. 3. Just because your new Hyundai can do 100 mph, doesn't give you the right to push it to its limits in heavy traffic. Over the years I have spent much too much time with accident reconstruction engineers who have proven that normal reaction time is a fraction of a second in order to get your foot off the accelerator and onto the brake from the time you recognize the danger. Do you know how far a car can travel in that distance at speeds in excess of 60 mph? Further than you can stop when you are only 10 to 20 feet behind the person in front of you. Then there are the skidding distances, tire conditions and road surface co-efficients. Bottom line - it's just crazy to tailgate or play games with other cars. Better law enforcement? Maybe, but it can be dangerous to conduct traffic stops on busy highways, especially at rush hours. Maybe living in the third largest region of the state carries these risks but it's never easy to accept tragedies that could be prevented. Dennis F Feeley (note: the above piece appeared in the Morning Call newspaper on Sunday September 12,2010)

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