January 7, 2008

Driving in fog — a 100-vehicle pile-up in Madison.

The Cap Times reports.
"I braked like crazy but there was just no way to stop," she said. Dietz Slavenas hit two cars in front of her. There were cars and trucks all over the road, some piled up and some separate, she said....

"Most people were very nice and very calm," she said, adding that someone was handing out Christmas cookies. "You run into the nicest people in Wisconsin. I love Wisconsin."
I love Wisconsin too, and people are very nice here, but they do not know how to drive in fog, as I observed when I drove to Milwaukee a couple weeks ago:
... I'd driven over 100 miles on I-94, and the fog had been much worse. I think I was the only driver on the road who was constantly thinking: This is how 50-car pile-ups happen. I drove so I could stop without crashing if I saw an accident ahead, and no one else did. People are crazy.
This is how 50-car pile-ups happen. This is how 100-car pile-ups happen.

Here is an unretouched photograph of what yesterday looked like:

DSC07124.JPG

41 comments:

Sean Wisnieski said...

y hello thar, Silent Hill.

George said...

Probably Bill O'Reilly's fault.

reader_iam said...

I'm not sure people are better at it elsewhere, unfortunately. You should have seen the insane people driving in fog and snow in the **steep** mountains of West Virginia, during our trip last week! I swear I watched my husband age a year or two during that white-knuckle of an experience.

Sheesh.

(And I can't say the drivers in similar or similarly risky weather circumstances doing much better in Illinois, Ohio, or Kentucky, either. There must be some new rule about turning off one's brain when turning the key in the ignition, or something.)

red-handed said...

Oh, you wacky Americans. Come up north for a wee driver's boot camp. ;P

Meade said...

Also, people walking or jogging on bike paths should stay in the left lane. That way they can see bicycles coming toward them and step off to side if the cyclist fails to see them. Especially in the fog, you do not want a relatively silent bicycle heading toward your back at 10-20 mph.

Middle Class Guy said...

People all over cannot drive. it is not only a matter of inability to navigate a vehicle in poor weather on bad roads. Their por driving is behavioral. It has to do with their all consuming need to get where they are going, irregardless of any one else.

J said...

ri's right - it's a problem everywhere. When people learn to drive, they apparently aren't taught anything about the physics of that activity.

Most people learn to drive in high school. Bill O'Reilly was a high school teacher. Coincidence?

Ann Althouse said...

I should say that Wisconsin drivers are great in the snow and ice. They're just terrible in the fog.

MadisonMan said...

Also, people walking or jogging on bike paths should stay in the left lane.

At least in Madison, the paths aren't bike paths, but Multi-use Paths. A biker, or pedestrian, or rollerblader, or dogwalker should not expect anyone to behave logically. It's called being defensive.

Drove to a movie shortly before noon yesterday, and the fog was incredibly thick. If that's how it was on the interstate, no wonder there was a crash.

reader_iam said...

One of the best pieces of driving advice I ever got was this: "Avoiding an accident does not primarily depend on your ability to hit the brake pedal."

Thanks, Dad.

Paddy O. said...

Folks on the mountain where I live seem to be very good about driving in fog. Course, when the visibility is only a tiny bit in front of the car, and a thin metal railing is the only barrier between the road and a long, long drop, people take extra precautions.

MadisonMan said...

Typo of the day from fox:

Around 2:30 p.m., cars began breaking when they hit a wall of fog

Pogo said...

Why don't our cars have the same technology as airplanes, which can sense the nearest car ahead, how far away it is and how fast you are approaching, and give you increasing warning signals as you approach?

Why not put signalling devices in the lane boundaries so we can tell where the actual road is in the fog and in a snowstorm or in driving rain?

Why not create a windshield that is also a plasma screen that shows infrared ahead of you: deer, people, cars, etc?

Why rely on changing human behavior, which is unlikely? Instead, make cars safer.
Teach us to drive by instruments, for when nature doesn't cooperate.

Beth said...

I'm not sure people are better at it elsewhere, unfortunately.

Not in my experience, sadly. The worst I've encountered was on I-55 to Jackson, Mississippi. Not only would traffic roar at the usual 80 mph during fog, it was made worse by farmers putting out smudge pots during the winter to keep their citrus crops from freezing. My former daily commute on a 24-mile bridge over the lake often occurred during dense fog, but at least the lake police would reduce traffic to one lane and keep it to 30 mph. That was kind of neat. I'd roll down the windows and hear only the waves lapping at the bridge.

Robin Goodfellow said...

Most drivers seem to lack critical thinking skills. I think it's because most people drive on instinct and a big part of that instinct is impatience. I find it particularly amazing how many drivers don't change their driving habits at all when conditions change, which is, of course, exactly how 100 vehicle pile-ups happen.

As to the comment above about Canadian drivers: I've driven in Canada many times, in my experience drivers there are actually worse (more impatient, less courteous, less thoughtful) than in the US.

rhhardin said...

My friend F.T.Grampp (``The thing about Mothers Against Drunk Driving is that if it weren't for the drunks, a lot of them wouldn't be mothers'') suggests speeding up in fog so you don't get rear-ended.

Ron said...

Maybe I was channeling the psychic energy of that crash in the previous post on fog...

It just goes to show that we should eventually let the robots do all the driving!

Trooper York said...

You never have a pile-up on the subway. Well of cars anyway.

Middle Class Guy said...

Pogo,
Ah, instead of safer people, we should mandate cars that drive themselves. What next, universal car ownership?

All the technology in the world will not change people's poor habits. As long as people are inconsiderate of other drivers, drive like they are the only car on the road, and act like NASCAR drivers when they are in a hurry to go nowhere, safer cars will not help.

Maybe we should mandate that all driver tests be conducted in bad weather.

bearing said...

We started from Minneapolis, heading to Cincinnati, on the evening of December 21, when Wisconsin got that snow/ice/fog storm. We had hoped we'd get out ahead of it. I think we must have been going 30 mph that whole evening. We contemplated stopping at Tomah, at the Dells, at Mauston, and when the storm turned to rain just outside of Madison, spent the night there. We woke up to a half-inch sheet of ice in the motel parking lot. We waited till 10 AM and then carefully, carefully, continued our 30mph drive through the fog and blowing snow.

In the first mile past our exit we saw seven cars off the road, all occupied with people who didn't look like they were having a very merry Christmas.

Once a giant red pickup truck roared past us as we crept along. Let's just say that our favorite moment of the trip was not very long after that. (He didn't seem to be hurt, just pissed off).

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pogo said...

All the technology in the world will not change people's poor habits.
That's what used to be said about seat belts, safety glass, air bags, and steering wheel columns that used to impale you.

Make cars safer because people are stupid.
Why is that such a big deal?

Bill said...

"You run into the nicest people in Wisconsin. I love Wisconsin."

Oy.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AlphaLiberal said...

Hey! Who knows where those people were from? Easy on Wisconsin drivers, it's not like they're Illinois drivers!

The word is that some people were going over the speed limit. The house across the street from us was difficult to see in that fog...

MadisonMan said...

The woman quoted by Ann lives in Rockford. She wouldn't run into the nicest people in Wisconsin if she knew how to drive -- but she lives in Rockford, so of course she can't drive.

Pogo said...

so I'm also wondering what a cost/benefit analysis might look like

Probably much like GPS maps in new cars. Unaffordable just a few years ago, now quite affordable.
Soon, it will be a standard feature. As always, sell the first iterations to the rich and the technogeeks, then watch it bloom.

Imagine being caught in a sudden squall or snowstorm. And yet you can tell exactly where the road is because the embedded GPS tracers in the highway concrete show up on your windshield as you proceed, outlining the lanes ahead, even though invisible. And through the impenetrable fog, the outline of a truck, nearly stalled, it's edges creating a virtual image on the glass, though to you there is nothing.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

That's what used to be said about seat belts, safety glass, air bags, and steering wheel columns that used to impale you.


I liked the suggestion I heard ( maybe from a comedian ) to replace the airbag and the padding on the steering wheel with a large metal spike. If people knew that even a minor fender bender would leave them impaled, they would drive much more carefully.

MadisonMan said...

Imagine being caught in a sudden squall or snowstorm. And yet you can tell exactly where the road is because the embedded GPS tracers in the highway concrete show up on your windshield as you proceed, outlining the lanes ahead, even though invisible.

Yes, let's just speed merrily along as the road becomes snow-covered. What's that? Glare Ice? No problem! I can see it, let me just keep speeding along!

Vision is not all when driving in the winter. You scenario might work for fog (if it's not freezing fog). But there are reasons to slow down when the weather is telling you to, and it's a bad idea to give drivers tools to ignore mother nature.

Pogo said...

Vision is not all

People do need to slow down, yes.

But haven't we been arguing that people are stupid and drive pell mell even when it is clear they should not?

So why not make it safer for people to drive in perilous conditions?

And doesn't it border on impotent cantankerousness utopianism to suggest that -even though we know ahead of time that people will do stupid things in bad weather no matter how many times we tell them otherwise- that we should deny technology to reduce the risk simply to show them?

Sheesh. And shit, man.

I have been caught in a dangerous snow storm, unable to stop because it's too cold and there's no homes in sight and I had an infant with me, and I could only go 20 mph or less on the interstate, and I would have given a kidney just to know I wasn't going to drive off of the next embankement (or even IF that's an embankment ahead, and not a truck), because I couldn't see a goddamned thing. People die in those things.

Why not assist them?
because someone might abuse it?
It's such typical leftist thought it makes me wanna holler.

and it's a bad idea to give drivers tools to ignore mother nature.

Yeah, screw the headlights.
Screw air conditioning.
Screw seat belts that reduce the risk of angular momentum.
Screw anti-lock breaks that reduce swerving.
Screw safety glass, let people get decapitated like Ma nature intended; let 'em get skewered on the rigid incollapsable steering wheel, just like ol' Grandpa did. Serves 'em right.

Christ almighty.

Pogo said...

And screw windshield wipers, the friggin' menace to road they've become.

MadisonMan said...

Pogo, all the technology in the world isn't going to help you if your smart car slows down in a dense fog and Mr. Illinois in his '87 Bonneville plows into you at 70 mph.

A better use of money, rather than retooling cars, would be to invest in communications infrastructure so people can be told that bad weather is ahead. (Of course, they should have read the forecast and known what they were headed for, but people are stupid). Now, Mr. Illinois in his '87 Bonneville might still be trying to go 70, but if everyone else is slowing down because of the warning (a tenuous if), he's not going to get very far.

I wonder what the protocol for closing the interstates is in Wisconsin. If you can't see to drive, why do the police allow it?

reader_iam said...

I THOUGHT I had blogged on a related topic way two years ago, and I found it (I started by saying, "Do you really want your car seat to vibrate to get your attention?" I didn't, by the way.) My old blog is still private, but here's the article to which I had linked:

V2V Technology.

reader_iam said...

That article starts:

ON a blustery afternoon here at General Motors' proving grounds northwest of Detroit, engineers whipped around the track in a Chevrolet Suburban and a pair of Cadillac CTS sedans, seemingly intent on causing a collision.

For a moment, that seemed to be exactly what would happen. The big Suburban, blocking the view of a Cadillac at the head of the pack, suddenly swerved out of its lane to reveal the lead car stopped in the middle of the track. But before the second Cadillac slammed into the rear of the stopped car, the driver was alerted to the danger by a series of vibrations through the seat. At the same moment, the brakes automatically clamped down to slow the car.

Blake said...

Ray Bradbury wrote a story of a terrible collision occurring in the fog, during his time in Ireland.

The punchline was that the two victims were on bicycles.

Blake said...

Technology has a role to play, let it do so.

The cars may drive themselves one day--not too far from now--and this more or less eliminate the "stupid driver" factor.

Of course, the "stupid programmer" factor will be there, and will people want their fates in the hands of a computer, even if it's largely safer? Don't we all feel like we're masters of our own destinies behind the wheel?

dick said...

I still remember driving in the fog north of Boston slowly and being passed by a woman in an old Chevy SW with her kid standing up in the middle of the front seat. I was going about 25 mph and she disappeared like I was standing still. I often wonder if that kid lived to be an adult.

Shannon said...
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Karl said...

"Ann Althouse said...

I should say that Wisconsin drivers are great in the snow and ice. They're just terrible in the fog."

I tend to disagree. I grew up and learned to drive in Wisconsin, but moved to Illinois 8 years ago. WI drivers are pretty reckless in all weather, but it's made worse by the fact that they are reckless in completely unpredictable ways. In Chicago, you can predict exactly what sort of boneheaded maneuver people are about to try...in Wisconsin, people will pull things that really make you wonder what the hell they could possibly be thinking.

I was driving up from Chicago to Milwaukee on the Friday before last (12/28) in the midst of a snow storm. In Illinois, I didn't see a single accident. As soon as we crossed the border, I started counting cars in the ditch (the total was 5 spotted, with another obviously having been recently towed away).

You can call us F.I.B.s, but at least you know when we're going to cut you off...meanwhile in a WI snowstorm you'll just get side-swiped for the heck of it.

-kd

Der Hahn said...

A land-based transportation system with automatic guidance? wow, nobody ever thought of that before.

freelunch said...

A land-based transportation system with automatic guidance? wow, nobody ever thought of that before.

You forgot door-to-door and on-demand.