One of the nice things about weather is that we all agree that we cannot control weather. Mother nature also moves to her own plans. When the pollen is turning the water yellow, all we can do is complain. Weather ends up being a safe topic. While I might have an opinion about the weather, it likely will not cost me any friends.
I can do a post, Hello From Emerald Isle, announcing the beginning of the beach season and few people will get mad at me when the weather turns cold. However, when we start to debate how much or how little we need to control human actions, mostly the gloves come off and we see a definite hardening of the mind. Most people do not want to be limited in what they can do even if it puts other people at risk.
As we went through the last weekend of March, 2013, we got an unsettling reminder of just how hard it is to get people to act sensibly. There was an accident involving 95 vehicles on Fancy Gap. I have written about Fancy Gap many times including a recent post, One Last Trip Down Fancy Gap From SW Virginia, in December of 2012.
According to a report in the April 3, 2012, Roanoke Times, the warning lights on Fancy Gap were activated at 5:45 AM on Sunday morning. The accident happened at 1:15 PM. Apparently there were people driving down the mountain at 75-80 MPH in the fog.
Now I have been on Fancy Gap Mountain when the fog lights were flashing but there was no fog so I can understand a little skepticism on flashing lights. However, I have never even in good clear weather driven down that mountain at 75-80 MPH. I might get up to 75 MPH when I am on a stretch of flat, empty highway with a speed limit of 70 MPH, but the idea of going down mountainous, crooked Fancy Gap at that speed just does not make any sense.
Perhaps I just have good common sense or maybe past experience helps. I have been driving up Fancy Gap since 1965. If you know the history of the area that date was well before Interstate 77 made its way up the mountain. I have lived on mountains a good portion of my life so I also have a good idea how fast fog can steal your vision.
By the time you get more than five decades on you, you are well past that stage of your life when you think that you are invincible. I have taken some pretty amazing calculated risks in my life, like flying to the barrens of Newfoundland in October, 1973, for some camping with my new wife. You can read the full story of that in my A Taste for the Wild, Canada's Maritimes.
We survived that trip to Newfoundland because in spite of appearances, I knew what I was doing. Unfortunately, driving down Fancy Gap in the fog at 75-80 MPH shows that you do not know what are doing. It is certainly not a calculated risk. It is more likely a death wish.
I am not a big believer in government regulating every part of my life, but I am a fan of reasonable speed limits. The problem is that most speed limits aren't enforced reasonably. I cannot even count the number of times that I have been along the stretch of I77 where this recent accident happened, but I have never seen a speeder pulled off even at the bottom of the mountain. There are plenty of speeders pulled off near milepost 10 close to Hillsville but after that you never see a speeder caught until well into North Carolina.
It is not just Virginia that practices random speeder control. Here along the Crystal Coast, we get to risk our lives on the Cedar Point racetrack. Though the posted speed limit is 45 MPH, it is not unusual for people to drive at 60-70 MPH while weaving from lane to lane to get around people driving only 50 MPH. I am surprised we have not seen more accidents, but I suspect it is only a matter of time.
Since speed limits, random policing, and flashing warning lights cannot control human behavior maybe a little logic will work. I picked up an amazing bit of knowledge in a manager's traffic safety training course at Apple. Learning that high speed over a short distance matters little in overall trip time actually might even be the only piece of useful knowledge that I ever got in an Apple manager training course.
Let us assume you are on a trip that is going to take five hours of driving time. In that five hours of driving is the six miles of Fancy Gap. If you drive down Fancy Gap at 60 miles per hour, it will take six minutes. If you choose to drive down at 80 miles per hour, it will take only four and one half minutes. You wil save a grand total of one and one half minutes by choosing the higher speed. That is one half of one percent of your total travel time. Is loosing your life and killing other people worth shaving one half a percent or one and one half minutes off your total travel time.
On a wet road it takes almost two and one half football fields for a vehicle to stop if it is traveling at 80 MPH. There is no way you can see that far in fog.
There is no way around it, driving at 80 MPH in the dense fog on Fancy Gap is plain stupid. I think a little truth in advertising might be in order. Perhaps a sign with "Idiots Driving At 80 MPH In The Fog Caused An Accident That Killed Three People on April 1, 2013. Ninety-five Cars Were Involved."