Traffic: Nearly First Page News

So we were this close to becoming tomorrow’s front page headline in the local newspaper, as well as next week’s traffic statistics.

There was a fatality on the highway which was our designated way home this afternoon. It happened on a long stretch of ongoing road construction where the highway is being expanded from a pathetic two lanes to a comfortable four, years and years in the making though not yet completed; now one of those two available lanes was blocked by a small van and a big-rig in a painful embrace, and the other by police, ambulances and rescue trucks. It takes little imagination to see that traffic will grind to a halt when such things happen.

Tønsbergs Blad: Omkom i frontkollisjon
(translation via Google)

The tragedy of the situation notwithstanding, what concerned us more directly was the resulting congestion. We got caught up only to find that most if not all possible exits away from the stand-still were unavailable due to the above mentioned road work. All exits had been diverted to the same stretch of highway on which we found ourselves standing.

At first glance it might seem dumb to just sit there and patiently wait out the delay, and we certainly weren’t enjoying it much. Though I figured that if we broke loose and by fortune found another route, that too would be just as slow. Certainly others would have hatched the same plan by then, as the highway congestion had been a couple of hours in the making already. I could think of two escape routes; one was conveniently closed off due to the road work, and the other turned out, as I had suspected, to be just as jam-packed with cars standing end-to-end as the road we were on.

Still, there were several drivers whose patience just wasn’t up to it, who decided to turn around and either go back where they came from or find another route to their destination, the latter being as mentioned utterly fruitless. That didn’t stop them from trying, though, quite nearly causing additional fatalities with reckless u-turns. I saw at least a dozen such manoeuvres from where I was sitting, half of them practically asking for an accident, and one was mere feet from getting us involved as well.

The driver in the Volkswagen Touran in front of us began making a U-turn, but the road was too narrow to make the move in one go, and while he was looking in our direction to reverse and adjust, an approaching semi-trailer casually appeared without prior announcement or formal introduction, moving at about 70-80kmph (45-50mph). I believe it’s fair to call this an “OH F*CK!” moment. You will note in the animation above that the clearing between the silver Touran and the approaching semi was a few feet short of quite reassuring, considering the truck’s speed and the Touran driver’s clumsy navigation. Had the driver turned his head towards oncoming traffic a mere second later, my better half and I could easily have been served both him and his car through the windshield of our Corolla. Not only did he (and we) narrowly escape death by Scania, but immediately afterwards he almost drove straight out in front of an oncoming Auris, but caught himself just in time. This was when he got more careful, and waited almost patiently a few more seconds for a safe way out.

I won’t say that I hadn’t considered making a similar U-turn myself just to get us out of there (or that I always make the right judgement call), but given the circumstances I estimated that the situation was simply too dangerous. When I drive, I prefer to have the odds on my side, which at the time boiled down to staying put.

The irony of the situation was that mere minutes previously we’d discussed getting a new car, and here we very nearly ended up having one thrown into our faces. Fortunately the margins were with us this time, but I prefer to survive traffic by something a little more solid than relying on blind, dumb luck, whether it be my own or somebody else’s.

When in traffic, think before you act. Lives may depend on whether you’re able to judge a situation correctly. Keep in mind that you are in charge of a potential murder weapon, and all it takes for things to go horribly wrong is a moment’s distraction, or a bit of impatience. The life you save may be your own, that of somebody you love, or even mine. Drive carefully.

“Please excuse the crudity of this model.
I didn’t have time to build it to scale or paint it.”
— Doc Emmet Brown

About the animation: After I’d watched several drivers make badly timed u-turns I decided I was going to catch the next one on camera. Since we were standing still, I could easily do so without adding to the danger. However, in the heat of the moment I messed up the video setting on the iPhone and ended up taking a series of stills instead. However, I’ve stabilized the image to the best of my ability, and the end result should serve its purpose as illustration. This is my first attempt at making an animated GIF from still images in Photoshop Elements.


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