That particular Sunday morning, I was driving from Boulder to Denver. Traffic was moderately heavy, moving along briskly at 65 to 75 mph. I was distracted, wondering how soon I would reach my exit.
A mile west of the I-25 interchange which I would take south to Denver, traffic began to slow down a bit. Anticipating some congestion, I moved over to the right-most lane that I would need to take the exit to I-25. As we got closer to the interchange, speeds dropped a little and distance between cars dropped dramatically, down to, maybe, three to four car lengths. I couldn’t see over the car in front of me to what was ahead.
About a half mile from the exit, traffic speed dropped fairly quickly from about 60 miles an hour down to about 40 miles an hour, catching me a little bit by surprise. I gave up a little distance to the red Nissan in front of me. And then, without warning, the driver of the red Nissan braked hard to a dead stop.
I didn’t have any time to think. I just jammed my brake pedal down and swerved hard right into the breakdown lane, coming to a stop door-to-door even with the red Nissan. I heard an unmistakable metal/plastic collapsing collision crunch as the guy who’d been behind me slammed into the back of the Nissan. He put his hands up over his face just before impact.
As I sat there, listening to my heart pounding, three things came immediately to mind. First, I’m glad it wasn’t me that hit the red car. Second, I’m glad I wasn’t playing with my phone. Third, I am REALLY glad I took a defensive driving course 10 years ago. What I learned in the course saved me:
- one second’s distance between cars for every 10 miles an hour of speed (not always possible)
- always be thinking about clear space around you (escape routes)
- when you must turn suddenly to avoid an obstacle, stand on your brakes and turn hard.
[With anti-lock brakes, the weight shift forward provides extra traction needed for the sudden turn.]
Sometimes sales calls, like Sunday drives, suddenly go terribly wrong or off course. People stop. Things fall into the road. To avoid crashes and to have more options than “hands over face as we collide,” it’s useful to have thought about potential obstacles and the turns or transitions needed to steer around them. In the moments when they happen, we don’t have any time to think.
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