By SGT. CAMERON RICHARDSON, B Troop, 3-17 Cav, Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.August 23, 2011
Suddenly, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. The truck slammed into traffic stopped in front of him. His brake lights never lit up, meaning he never noticed the vehicles had stopped. I shifted into fourth gear and slammed on the brakes. Before my eyes I saw the trailer's wall rippling as sparks bounced off my hood.
Fortunately, I was awake enough to react in time. As I came to a stop, I started to realize what had just happened. The semi in front of me had just rear-ended another semi.
The accident happened in the interstate's center lane, and I'd stopped halfway into that lane. I turned on my hazards and pulled into the left lane to block traffic. I grabbed my flashlight and my phone as I jumped out.
I'd never called emergency services before, but I think I did well. I stated my name and location before explaining what happened. The emergency operator told me I sounded calm. I didn't feel like telling her I'd lived through countless attacks by the enemy.
I approached the truck and could see it was badly damaged. I climbed up to look through the driver-side window into the cab. When I saw the driver, he had a deep depression in his forehead. I immediately knew it was bad. I couldn't open the door and, instead, reached through the shattered window to shake him. Although I yelled and shook him, he never answered.
Hoping to do some good somewhere else, I ran to the truck he'd hit and found the hood open and leaning forward. As I got closer, I could see the rubber on the asphalt. The tire marks must have stretched 20 feet.
Reaching the cab, I found an old man who was trying to remove his seat belt. That scared me. I didn't know if he had any spinal injuries, so I told him to sit back and not move.
As I was climbing down from the truck, the first police officer arrived.
I later learned that the truck driver in front of me had fallen asleep at the wheel. As I suspected, he was dead before emergency personnel arrived. The older man in the truck he hit was hospitalized for three days and released.
I'd witnessed firsthand how fatigue and complacency can kill and had almost become a part of that accident. That gave me a lot to think about. I'd begun my trip the night before after working 12 hours that day and then driven for eight hours with only a single stop for gas.
Ever since this accident, I've made sure I get at least eight hours of sleep before taking off on a long trip. When I'm on the road, I pull over every couple of hours and, if needed, take an occasional nap. I do these things now because I know firsthand that if I'm driving fatigued, I might as well be driving drunk.
w/ info box below
Too Tired to Care?
Falling asleep at the wheel can turn your vehicle into an unguided "missile" on the highway. To prevent that, the National Safety Council offers the following tips:
• Maintain a regular sleep schedule that allows adequate rest.
• When the signs of fatigue begin to show, get off the road. Take a short nap in a well-lit area. Do not simply stop on the side of the road.
• Avoid driving between midnight and 6 a.m.
• When planning long trips:
o Share driving responsibilities with a companion.
o Begin the trip early in the day.
o Keep the temperature cool in the car.
o Stop every 100 miles or two hours to get out of the car and walk around; exercise helps to combat fatigue.
o Stop for light meals and snacks.
o Drive with your head up, shoulders back and legs flexed at about a 45-degree angle.