A Very Lucky Brake (long story)

Don’t worry–that’s the correct spelling for this story.

Today, I was driving eastbound on Highway 1 in Manitoba (which is mostly two-lanes-east-two-lanes-west-with-a-median-in-the-middle), and continued eastbound when the road crossed into northern Ontario. In Ontario, the road is known as Highway 17, and is just two lanes of blacktop. There is the occasional passing lane, but for the most part, the only thing keeping eastbound traffic from the westbound traffic is a double yellow line. The speed limit is only 90 km/h (55 mph). It is a twisty, turny, up-and-down road blasted through granite.

Traffic came to a standstill at a point west of Kenora. There was no oncoming traffic, so I thought there might be construction ahead, with one lane operating and a couple of flaggers controlling traffic. I was half right; traffic was down to one lane, but it was due to a bad accident between a motorcycle and a pickup truck. Police were on the scene getting traffic through the only open lane, but the accident looked fairly recent, and no other emergency personnel were there.

But we got going again, only to stop again a few miles down the road. This wait was longer than the first, and when I heard the semi ahead of me put on his parking brake and turn his engine off, I did the same. People started getting out of their cars, talking to each other, wondering what was going on. The trucker, realizing he was going nowhere, let his dog out of the truck for a run. A few distressed-looking people disappeared into the woods, only to reappear a few moments later, zipping up their pants and smiling.

Oddly, there was no oncoming traffic–or perhaps not oddly, as fire trucks and other emergency personnel came racing by. As it would turn out, police had to stop traffic in both directions so the emergency responders could use one lane of the road.

We got going again; and as often happens after a lane of traffic has been stopped, it travelled in a clump. My clump had a few semis in it, some private cars, and a camper being towed by a pickup at the lead. I was near the rear of the clump; ahead of me was a semi, then me, then behind me was a tandem semi carrying a load of two-by-fours. The camper was having trouble negotiating the hills, so there was an impatient line of traffic (our clump) behind him. Given the delays we had encountered due to the accident, people just wanted to get going; but they couldn’t get past the camper, so they were bunched up.

Not all of us, though–I left about 200 yards between the semi ahead and my car. The semi behind me left about 200 yards between his truck and my car. Everybody else was pretty bunched up though.

Suddenly, the brake lights on the semi ahead went on. Then clouds of smoke started rising from his trailer tires. I realized he was stopping in a hurry, so I hit my brakes calmly–remember, I had plenty of room in which to stop. Then I realized that I was being followed by a fully-loaded tandem semi, and glanced in my mirror. Clouds of smoke were rising from his tires too, and he was coming on fast. Still moving, I pulled onto the shoulder, so as not to be squashed between two semis. Good thing too, because the semi behind needed all the room I could give him to come to a safe stop. The air reeked of burning rubber.

It turned out the the car in front of the semi ahead of me, apparently unaware that a semi requires a lot more room to stop than a car, decided to make a left turn and had to come to a stop in order to yield to oncoming traffic. This was why the semi ahead of me locked his brakes, I hit mine, and the semi behind locked his. There was no damage to anybody, and we were soon on our way again.

But gosh! If neither the semi ahead, the semi behind, or myself, were alert; or if we had been in any closer, things might have been very different. I had a very lucky break today.

Don’t tailgate, folks!

Seconded. Lots of stopping distance - everything’s fine when you drive too closely as long as no one has to stop, but when they do, they’re usually isn’t a damned thing you can do if you’re too close.

Glad to hear you’re okay. :slight_smile:

Welcome to NW Ontario. Yes, driving on 17 is usually like that, particularly concerning truckers who do not leave enough space for emergency stops for moose, creeping tourist campers, moose, on-coming vehicles blindly passing, moose, vehicles making last moment turns at unmarked bush roads, and moose. Driving would be OK if it were not for the truckers and the moose, so best to pull off, let the truckers pass, and then follow them so that they rather than you hit the moose, and so that they do not hit you. I’m not kidding about this.

Drop me a line if you want to meet in TBay for breakfast or lunch.

You forgot to mention moose. :wink:

Seriously, you make some good points. I’ve driven 17 a few times before, and that Manitoba border-to-Dryden stretch is tricky enough without adding delayed and thus impatient drivers of all sorts moving in a clump to the mix. Even without the clump, though, it’s been my experience that sometimes, getting on the paved shoulder or into a snowplow turnaround is the best option. Owing to the hills and gravity, it’s easy for a truck to break the speed limit on this road; but it cannot break the laws of physics. Should it need to try to so do, I don’t want to be anywhere near it.

I did find an item about the original motorcycle-truck accident in the Kenora media this morning–link here. The item doesn’t say much, but it does have a small photo that shows how narrow the road is.

Sounds like the semi ahead of you was following too closely. Not sure why the car in front of him would need to be aware of stopping distance, unless the problem was actually that the car in question didn’t signal his left turn, in which case he deserves a pittin’.

So glad you’re okay, Spoons. And everyone else. And glad you were alert! I will take this thread into account if I ever have to drive in Northwestern Ontario…

Agreed, the semi drivers should leave extra space ahead of themselves, but the OP shouldn’t need to leave extra space behind one[sup]*[/sup]. The semi behind him should leave extra space, and be watching over his roof to see farther ahead.

  • Well, from farther behind he’s got extra visibility. And it’s not like riding the semi’s bumper is going to get you where you’re going very much faster, especially on a two-lane road.

The camper that was making everyone bunch up behind, should have pulled over to let everyone else pass, and then been on their way.

As someone who drives 300 Kms on highway 17 every weekday I am completely familiar with this type of scenario.

In fact here’s a similar one from a couple of weeks back.

I’m glad we’re not all scratching our heads wondering what happened to the poster Spoons.

I just took a holiday driver a mobile home. It was big, top heavy and couldn’t corner worth a damn.

As a “speedster”, I am very very aware of not having traffic behind me, even in my car and at / near the limit I will allow people the opportunity to pass.

BUT, it’s not always as easy to pull over as you might think, my experience was that (unless there was some forewarning of a passing lane), by the time you could see a pull off point, and determine it was big enough to fit into without having to brake heavily you were right on top of it.

The experience gave me a new appreciation for how hard it can be to get out of the way sometimes.

Not knowing the road in question, I’m not willing to defend the camper - just saying is all.

Yes, the shoulders of the road weren’t quite as wide as they could have been. A small-to-midsize car would have been okay; a camper being towed by a full-sized pickup–well, it would have been iffy.

I thought the truck could have been following too closely too; but having driven a big rig a few times, I’ve also experienced cars in front doing boneheaded things. Being unable to see, I don’t know which was the case. Let’s just say that if I had been driving the rig, I would have left plenty of room in front of me.

But that may be the reason why I stay well back of big trucks–I hated the feeling that there was a car behind me, but being unable to see it. So, when I drive my car, I’m generally far enough back that I can see the truck’s mirrors. That way, he knows I’m there, and roughly how far back I am.

Hey, you’re not the only one! :smiley:

A long, but uneventful drive today, by the way. The worst that happened were a few construction delays, and mistakenly buying a cup of decaf instead of regular when I stopped for gas. Blech!

I always try to leave ample room in front of me for just that reason. It gripes my butt when some ass decides to slide into my safe zone…

Glad you’re ok, Spoons.

Highway 17 in Ontario needs to be twinned.

It’s a very unsafe highway. Yes, I know the road itself isn’t the the problem, it’s the drivers. But I think the issue is that people on this highway aren’t simply travelling for a half hour to an hour, they’re in it for a long stretch, and thus picking up an extra 10 - 15 KPH in speed is significant.

It’s fraught with cottagers, industrial truckers, locals alike. The construction delays fray nerves and the next thing you know people are taking unwarranted risks.

I’m going to craft an email to Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli and voice my concerns. I know they’ve talked about twinning this stretch for decades and there’s now a small portion from Ottawa to Arnprior that is almost complete, but it’s a killer highway to be sure.

All of it? It’s over 1900 km long from Arnprior to the Manitoba border. That would cost what, ten billion dollars? Twenty billion? Will the federal government help pay for it?

Update: Just found this about the original motorcycle-truck accident. The item also contains discussion about twinning Highway 17 from the Manitoba border to Kenora.

They have to nibble away at it. There’s a fatal every couple of months on my stretch. The traffic’s only going to increase. Especially since the parallel rail is now shut down in this stretch.

If we’re lucky. I’d guess it would be more.

There are stretches of that highway where twinning could be done, and has: see a ways east of Sault Ste. Marie, and west of Sudbury; and there are likely a few other places. It also looks like a twinning project is occurring just east of Thunder Bay. But there are many more where twinning would be (I’d guess, since I’m no engineer) impossible from an engineering standpoint. As it is, there are places where it seems that the engineers widened a simple footpath into a two-lane road–there simply is not room for a twin in the other direction; not without taking a wholly-different route. During parts of my drive today, I felt I was riding a roller coaster: up, down, left, right, probably a few 180 (or more) degree turns too. All points of my in-car compass displayed. Beautiful scenery, but white-knuckling in a few parts of the drive, definitely. How this would be twinned, I have no idea.

Interestingly, there are no truck run-out lanes either. Unless Lake Superior counts. :smiley:

Looking forward to tomorrow, when I get to see how far Highway 400 has been constructed south of Sudbury and north of Parry Sound.

Oh, twinning Highway 17 is certainly possible, if they threw enough money at it. They are twinning the Trans-Canada through Kicking Horse Pass, after all. But do they have the money?

Yup, TBay to Nipigon is being twinned. Most importantly, a second bridge is being built at Nipigon (presently, that bridge is the only vehicle road that connects eastern and western Canada; there is also one rail road there and another rail road at the top of Lake Nipigon. No other paths or tracks or trails.)

Up, down, left, right – that’s Nipigon to Marathon, the section I drive every couple of weeks. I love that drive, but when the storms come in off the lake it gets closed a lot. I wish more truckers would take 11 rather than 17, for many of them are truly clueless in how to handle the hills and turns, again leading to a lot of closures.

Sudbury to TO is fully twinned.

You’re right about 'gaiting.

I used to tailgate when I was a teen, not since. Been in rear enders or close ones enough with friends. Why tailgate anyway? Would you really get there any faster? Absolutely not.

I will make sure I’m giving enough room. Glad you didn’t get a squish!