Rural Route Realities
The day began as a perfect, cool, sunny Sunday morning. I was driving along the Missouri-Arkansas state line from my home in Overland Park, Kansas, to visit relatives in Pea Ridge, Arkansas. This easy, 225-mile drive should have taken me about four hours. Instead, I arrived 24 hours late and $1,500 lighter in the wallet.
I started my journey at 6 a.m. after a good night’s sleep. My trusty pickup was in excellent condition with four new tires providing a firm grip on the asphalt. I was eagerly looking forward to the drive on U.S. Highway 71, a direct route south from metro Kansas City to northwest Arkansas and the shortest route to my Uncle Norman’s farm. “Seventy-one highway” — as the locals call it — is a modern, limited-access, four-lane road resembling an interstate highway in every regard. I had thoroughly planned the trip, applying the tenets of risk management.
Just a few miles north of the Arkansas state line, I elected to take a more scenic route. I turned onto Missouri State Highway 90, a two-lane blacktop road that passed through the “bourgeoning” metropolis of Jane, Missouri. This proved to be a highly significant and costly tactical error.
Cruising along at 45 mph, I noticed a dense line of trees growing along the right side of the road. These trees effectively obscured a couple of mobile homes located on a gravel road intersecting my road from the right. Through my peripheral vision, I detected movement behind the trees. What I thought was a lone running black dog turned out to be a dog chasing a 1969 Chevrolet step-side pickup.
The driver of the ancient Chevy never paused at the intersection and pulled right in front of me. Those trees had probably screened his vision just as they had mine. The look on his face was one of horror. Just before the impact, he looked at me, realizing he had driven into my lane and a collision was imminent. Shouting a colorful expletive, I stood on my antilock brakes, but there was nowhere to go. I braced for impact.
I remember hearing a loud bang and then my truck’s cab filled with smoke from the air bag. Snug in my seat belt, I don’t recall my face bouncing off the bag; but later I had to wash off the white powder. I had been careful to keep my hands on the steering wheel’s 9 and 3 o’clock positions. That’s important because following the conventional wisdom of placing your hands at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions can lead to serious injuries when the airbag deploys. Suffering only minor burns to both thumbs, I was extremely lucky to be uninjured. My truck didn’t fare so well. It was crunched beyond repair.
I consider myself fortunate to be alive. Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that more than 70 percent of all fatal accidents happen on rural roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher. These higher speeds, coupled with sometimes poorly engineered roads and slower emergency response times, all combine to make rural driving more hazardous.
The state trooper responding to my accident was amazed (based upon my crumpled truck) that I was not seriously injured. I attribute that to the fact I consistently wear my seat belt, drive within the posted speed limit and have antilock brakes. If only the other driver had insurance, this mishap would have only cost me time and inconvenience — not cash!
We can all learn from others. Motor vehicle collisions will happen even when you’re doing everything right. Also, don’t assume high-speed interstates are the most dangerous places you can drive. Sometimes it’s while you’re enjoying a more relaxed scenic route that the unexpected happens. Don’t presume you are safe just because you’re in an idyllic setting. Always watch out for the other guy. He might just make you a victim of his bad decisions.