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Fifty car pileup closes 1-4 in Florida
January 9, 2008 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I watched man burn to death, heard others screaming in the fog. A massive, 50-car pileup, the result of three or more crashes on I-4, has led to at least 3 fatalities and 82 injuries in central Florida near Orlando. The smoke and fog were so bad that rescue efforts were hindered. Drivers with no visibility did not know whether to stay in their burning cars or risk running out onto the highway for help.
posted by misha (59 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Scares the crap out of me.
posted by smackfu at 8:17 AM on January 9, 2008


This looks absolutely ghastly.

Growing up in the San Joaquin Valley, I know all about the hazards of fog, but mixed with smoke? Yikes.
posted by porn in the woods at 8:18 AM on January 9, 2008


This follows a 40 car pile up with 2 fatalities in Madison, WI on Sunday.
posted by drezdn at 8:27 AM on January 9, 2008


.
posted by uaudio at 8:30 AM on January 9, 2008


It always amazes me that people continue to drive well over 50 MPH when the visibility is that poor. As porn suggests, this is a depressingly regular occurrence on the I-5 in the central California valley.
posted by Slothrup at 8:36 AM on January 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


People have this idea that once they get a patch of fog they need to power their way out of it, which sounds astonishingly stupid but it's really a basic fight-or-flight response.
posted by clevershark at 8:46 AM on January 9, 2008


On fark's thread about the Wisconsin pile-up, somebody observed that humans seem to have it wired in to assume no danger if we can't see it coming.

I too have found myself driving in the Fresno Tule fog to the limit of my lane-keeping abilities and not the stopping-in-time limit.
posted by panamax at 8:54 AM on January 9, 2008


My grandparents live in that area (they're OK). There are tons of elderly drivers on I-4; it's a scary stretch of road.
posted by desjardins at 8:54 AM on January 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


> It always amazes me that people continue to drive well over 50 MPH when the visibility is that poor

When it happens suddenly (as in a sudden torrential downpour, which was the last time my windshield went white on the interstate) you're in trouble. I don't want to keep driving, obviously, but also don't want to pull off where the shoulder is narrow (like next to a guard rail,) the stream of crazies is still zipping past me blind five feet away, and the multicar pile-up will certainly include my car if it happens right there. A wide shoulder where I can get way off, even if it means getting stuck in mud? I'm off. The best thing to hope for is a bridge, where I can pull off on the downstream side with the bridge abutment between me and the oncoming traffic.
posted by jfuller at 8:55 AM on January 9, 2008


He watched a man burn to death while others screamed in the fog. Travers parked the car among the over-luminous pines and helped her onto the asphalt verge. As she watched, face hidden behind the white fur collar, he began to pace out the trajectories. Minutes later he beckoned her forward. 'The impact point was here - roll-over followed by head-on collision.' He stared at the surface of the concrete. She was gazing at the culvert between bridge and motorway, an elegant conjunction of rain-washed concrete forming a huge motion sculpture. His hands explored the musculature of her pelvis and abdomen. How would she have preferred it: in terms of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the '50s school of engineering, or, most soigné of all, the Embarcadero Freeway? His files scattered to the road surface, photostats of the front elevation of a multi-story car park, mean intra-patellar distances of Coretta King and Ethel M. Kennedy, close up of the perineum of Ronald Reagan. A mile away, a tank growled hungrily as it crushed a bamboo hut. Somewhere, Ralph Nader smiled.



Sorry, I was just briefly possessed by the muse of J.G. Ballard.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 8:56 AM on January 9, 2008 [8 favorites]


Almost every time I slow down in bad visibility, I get lunatics honking at me & speeding past; I've often wondered if my slowing down has in fact made things more dangerous. Someone going 65 when they hit the fog might not expect to encounter me going 45 or less.
posted by aramaic at 9:01 AM on January 9, 2008


If you have zero visibility, I'm not sure how much good "slow" does you. Even if you go 35 mph, if you come up on a stopped car with no notice, you're adding to the pileup.
posted by smackfu at 9:04 AM on January 9, 2008


Jesus.

A couple months ago we were driving to Pacifica to visit some friends - it's only about a 20-minute drive from our house. It was a foggy evening, but thanks to San Francisco's extremely micro microclimates, it was only a teeny bit foggy at our place, but when we crested the hill overlooking Pacifica, it went from misty/foggy to total whiteout in about four seconds flat. Terrifying, especially with people zooming by like the world was still visible. I was sure that the rear end of an 18-wheeler was in our immediate future. Fortunately, it wasn't. But I'll be happy if I never drive in conditions like that again - it was way worse than the blizzard/ice storm I drove through from Maine to western Mass.
posted by rtha at 9:18 AM on January 9, 2008


People have this idea that once they get a patch of fog they need to power their way out of it, which sounds astonishingly stupid but it's really a basic fight-or-flight response.

As a claustrophobe, my main desire when dense fog sets in is neither to fight nor flee but to breathe into a bag. We had 2.5 solid days of fog here in central MI over the weekend, and at times it felt like being very unpleasantly swaddled.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:26 AM on January 9, 2008


The best thing to hope for is a bridge, where I can pull off on the downstream side with the bridge abutment between me and the oncoming traffic.
posted by jfuller at 11:55 AM on January 9 [+] [!]


Every car/motorcycle class I've ever taken has explicitly discouraged students from pulling under an overpass in these conditions. Yet I just looked it up to remember why, and found that the NHTSA actually encourages this.

Was anybody else every taught NOT to pull under an overpass during poor visibility/driving rain? If so, what was the reason?
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 9:35 AM on January 9, 2008


I'm not one to dwell on "this could have happened to me" type things, but I am a bit shaken by this.

A few days before Christmas, I was driving from Boston to NC. I hit a wall of fog stretching from upstate NY through Pennsylvania to Virginia; visibility was about 3-4 car lengths. My first thought was to a) slow down and 2) turn on my hazards, so that other people could, you know, SEE me. I expected other people to do the same, and a few did, but most people blazed past us without even headlights on. I struggled to do 45. I cannot imagine how people were comfortably going faster than that (most of the speedy vehicles didn't have fog lights - do those even help?) That was the most harrowing few hours of driving I have ever experienced. I am amazed that there were no accidents (during my drive, at least).
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:37 AM on January 9, 2008


The last major pile-up in the San Joaquin Valley was only two months ago. I remember fog days at school in Bakersfield. Too dangerous to drive or walk to school! Tule fog, Valley fever, frogs in spring, so thick on the ground you couldn't help but tread on them, crime, and kids getting burns from metal playground slides in the 107 degree summer heat - what a hellhole.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:37 AM on January 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


> Was anybody else every taught NOT to pull under an overpass during poor visibility/driving rain? If so, what was the reason?

Under seems obviously dangerous to me, I wouldn't dream of stopping under a bridge and didn't mean to appear to recommend it (mainly because under the bridge is one of the places where the shoulder is narrow and you can't get very far off the road.) There's a big difference between under and on the other side.
posted by jfuller at 9:42 AM on January 9, 2008


On that same exact stretch of I-4 I once witnessed a car doing somersaults in the median, hands down one of the craziest (and scariest) things I've ever seen. To echo comments above, it's an always hazardous stretch of highway ... though it's a tad better now that they've just about finished the miles of construction that seemed to last over a decade.
posted by General Zubon at 9:53 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


The rule of thumb I was taught was this: when visibility drops, slow down gently to the point of being able to stop before the car in front of you, and try to keep the taillights of the car in front of you visible; if you can no longer see the taillights of the car in front of you (or there is no car in front of you) gently pull over when it is safe to do so, not just on the shoulder but as far beyond that as you can. Oh, and foglights not headlights, of course.

The things I was taught not to do:

a: slow down abruptly;
b: keep driving if you cannot see a car's taillights in front of you in your lane far enough away that you can stop if they hit something and stop in less than a second.

But if you're going to pile the various risks we take as drivers up and count 'em, there are many that we manage every day and don't think much about. Reduced visibility from fog et al is something that people generally don't encounter regularly (or ever) in some areas, and if you're not used to it you might panic, or keep driving as if nothing's changed (which is why you see tons of single-car accidents in the rain in LA) or drive as the others around you are driving (which can be good or bad depending on what they're doing.)

My heart goes out to the people involved; accidents under any condition are a horrible thing, regardless of fault or preventibility.
posted by davejay at 10:05 AM on January 9, 2008


Oh, and to answer the whole "do you slow down or keep going" thing, the problem is this: there is risk in slowing down if nobody else does, and there is risk in staying the course if nobody else does. The only way to reduce risk is to have everyone doing the same thing, and then you simply look at the visibility question and realize that everyone slowing down is better than everyone staying the course.

But how do you communicate that to everyone? You can't, at least not in the US (where driving is considered a right rather than a privilege) and so if you slow down too much you get honked at and possibly rear-ended, starting that dreaded pileup.

Hence my vote for the pull way, WAY over camp.
posted by davejay at 10:07 AM on January 9, 2008


Sounds like a sequel to Smash-Up on Interstate 5.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:11 AM on January 9, 2008


Here's a critical point if you pull over and stop in heavy fog: After you stop, off the road, turn off your lights. No flashers, nothing. You don't want someone seeing your lights and deciding the road is over there instead of in front of them.
posted by pjern at 10:12 AM on January 9, 2008 [6 favorites]


Awful. And I read in another report that this was a prescribed burn that went wrong.

Sorry, I was just briefly possessed by the muse of J.G. Ballard.

Weirdly (or not), that was my first thought, too.
posted by carter at 10:24 AM on January 9, 2008


drezdn : This follows a 40 car pile up with 2 fatalities in Madison, WI on Sunday.

The news reports I read put it closer to 100 cars.

Years ago I was driving out to Baltimore and we got hit by a whiteout snowstorm that literally came out of nowhere; one second everything was fine, the next, visibility was about 10 feet. We narrowly (read as: by inches) missed being involved in an accident like this. We sat by the side of the road and listened as one car after another slammed into the one before it. It was so frustrating not being able to do a damn thing to stop it.
posted by quin at 10:27 AM on January 9, 2008


solopsist, that's a great point that I'll keep in mind. But don't you risk being accused of being at fault if someone rams into you because they didn't see you? I guess that it might be worth the (reduced) risk.
posted by Dasein at 10:41 AM on January 9, 2008


drezdn: Jesus, I *live* in Madison, and didn't even know this, wtf? Yeah the fog here was been insane (especially on Monday, when I went to work). It reminds me of the Tower Drive Bridge pile-up in Green Bay back in 1990. I have panic attacks driving over that damn bridge, partially due to the pile-up, and partially cuz I'm just crazy.

So far, I've been fortunate, and everyone I've come across when driving in fog has been really good at taking it slow. Snow, on the other hand, those SUV fuckers are always in the ditch because they think they can speed their way through it.

So, wow... Insurance must pay bloody hell for these kinds of things. Not that I cry for insurance companies.

MY thoughts are with all the families here and in Florida for those affected.
posted by symbioid at 10:59 AM on January 9, 2008


The news reports I read put it closer to 100 cars.

I believe there were actually two big pile ups, one on the south side of town and another about 5-10 miles south of that.
posted by aaronetc at 11:03 AM on January 9, 2008


my solution is that if the weather's bad or it has a good chance to be bad, i stay the hell off the freeway - people never slow down on 94 - it's nuts
posted by pyramid termite at 11:15 AM on January 9, 2008


It always amazes me that people continue to drive well over 50 MPH when the visibility is that poor. As porn suggests, this is a depressingly regular occurrence on the I-5 in the central California valley.

It took me way too long to figure out that you meant the user porn in the woods.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 11:19 AM on January 9, 2008 [11 favorites]


I4 is terrifying enough on a clear day - it's the Autobahn of central Florida. I'm not sure what the posted speed limits are there, but if you go less than 70 you're holding things up. I am surprised this sort of thing doesn't happen more often.

I've been on it during brush fires. Just once, during the drought in 2000. Never want to do that again. It's beyond surreal to be tooling along on the highway with the happy magic Disney signs to the left and a wall of flaming trees to the right.
posted by cmyk at 11:26 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Growing up in the central valley I know the feeling, porn in the woods. This happens every so many years on Hwy 99. It's scary business as visibility closes in on you like that and you realize people behind you might not stop. Valley fog is the craziest stuff I have ever seen.
posted by podwarrior at 12:07 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


My biggest annoyance when Interstate driving, other than a slow car that refuses to move out of the fast lane, is drivers that do not follow the 2-second rule. I see these maniacs tailgating at 80mph all the time. Or, I'll be in the fast lane, with a safe distance between my car and the car in front of me, then some angry white male will zip in between us, because he saw an opportunity for his car to fit. What an idiot! Then I have to slow down to not die, etc.

Maybe if the American driving tests were as difficult as the European ones, there would be less chaos.
posted by plexi at 12:29 PM on January 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


Twenty-one years in the Central Valley gave me a healthy respect for the fog. No accidents but a few close calls. Once I was near Modesto during a ridiculously foggy evening, driving the speed limit, and there was a parked car (!) in the left lane of Hwy 99 that I nearly hit due to lowered visibility.

In K-8th grade, I looked forward every winter to the inevitable "Foggy Day Schedules" that would mean a later-morning bus pickup and more time for cartoons.
posted by porn in the woods at 12:40 PM on January 9, 2008


This is the county I live in.

I have to selfishly say that I am VERY glad that route isn't on my commute. For what it's worth, my thoughts are with those that have been affected by this.
posted by SentientAI at 1:18 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


The matter is extremely simple. If the police rigourously enforced the various traffic laws, and were particularly assiduous during fog, this matter would be moot in five years.

If people going 60 in a fog were stopped and got huge tickets for reckless driving or even jail sentences for a repeat offense, they'd figure it out damn fast.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:14 PM on January 9, 2008


Ticketing people for speeding in the fog? That seems... challenging.
posted by smackfu at 2:24 PM on January 9, 2008


I think the "don't stop under a bridge" warning is usually for hurricanes and tornadoes, rather than rain. Motorcyclists stop under bridges down here all the time when thunderstorm season approaches.

And yes, I-4 is one of the scariest roads ever. I have to drive this Interstate to see my parents, and vice versa. They are seriously considering moving closer to us, in part because of it's so harrowing to navigate the interstate.
posted by misha at 2:59 PM on January 9, 2008


lupus_yonderboy writes "If people going 60 in a fog were stopped and got huge tickets for reckless driving or even jail sentences for a repeat offense, they'd figure it out damn fast."

I'm trying to figure out how this would work from a logistical POV. Wouldn't putting up radar traps make driving in fog more dangerous, as people see it on their detectors and/or see the cop car down the road? And how well does radar even work in fog? For that matter, is there a specific law that requires slowing down when driving in fog?
posted by krinklyfig at 2:59 PM on January 9, 2008


.
posted by vsync at 3:13 PM on January 9, 2008


For that matter, is there a specific law that requires slowing down when driving in fog?

"Driving too fast for conditions" generally covers it.

I live near Madison and we've had this foggy weather on and off the last week or so (it may be done now), which is very unusual. The thing is that it's variable -- it flows through the air like slow billowing clouds, rather than blanketing everything evenly. You can be clear one moment and invisible the next. A lot of the accidents actually occur when people hit the fog and brake. People don't brake at the same exact relative moment nor do they slow down evenly so the odds favor some collisions even if people are behaving "appropriately".

Funny thing is that the Sunday before Christmas I was driving through a total whiteout. You come up out of the river valley onto a very slightly rolling plain and the snow was blowing horizontally across the highway. That was a nail-biter, let me tell you, because you couldn't even see the lines on the road. At least in the fog you have an idea where they are if you're slowed down enough.
posted by dhartung at 3:18 PM on January 9, 2008


Was anybody else every taught NOT to pull under an overpass during poor visibility/driving rain?
I just took the motorcycle class and got my endorsement in December.

I'm extremely grateful that I didn't happen to be on that road on my bike this morning (not likely; it's considerably out of my way). At least I think I would have been less likely to get trapped while burned to death, but the more I hear about the situation the more horrific it is. I'm visualizing the situation and have no idea if I'd have the reflexes or ability or just the time to slow/stop and get off the road. From what they said, you'd hit that wall and suddenly bam no visibility and bam you're hit. Ugh.

Regarding your question, they didn't say anything about overpasses either way in the class. I'd instinctually be wary of anything with entrapping walls or where I might be hidden in shadow.
posted by vsync at 3:19 PM on January 9, 2008


I hear a bus plunged off a cliff in Mexico.
posted by LarryC at 3:41 PM on January 9, 2008


When I hit whiteout I generally lay on the horn in addition to slowing down. At least there's a chance that someone will hear it as they approach and realize "Wow, there's crap out here that I can't see! I should slow down."
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:59 PM on January 9, 2008


It's almost poetic how the fog comes down, and everybody realizes that the cars they're driving are scary monsters capable of killing them or anyone they hit.
posted by Free word order! at 4:05 PM on January 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


“Almost every time I slow down in bad visibility, I get lunatics honking at me & speeding past;”

Yeah, I get that. Crazy bastards. Had a snowstorm out here a bit ago so I took the Jeep and generally drove slow and cautious. Traffic was down to one lane in some areas because the plows weren’t out yet and I pulled in behind a long row of cars because that’s where the trail was even though I’m in a pretty powerful 4x4. A woman in a - I kid you not - Honda s2000 drives *around* me (again in a, visibly, serious 4x4) and gets stuck in the snow in the other lane. Then, attempting to continue to go forward got herself stuck in the ditch. I was amazed it wasn’t some high school guy (given the poor decision making and overconfidence). No. I didn’t help her. She had already been driving and talking on her cel phone.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:18 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


was the fog bad enough that authorities considered shutting down the highway (before the accidents)? the El Cajon pass here in SoCal is closed sometimes due to whiteout conditions. a traffic nightmare, to be sure, but better than half a dozen people burning to death while trapped in their cars.
posted by killy willy at 4:26 PM on January 9, 2008


There might be no greater expression of the social contract than driving, which is why I have no respect or sympathy at all for those who whizz past me at 80 or 90mph on a busy freeway, and who don't slow down to a safe speed in poor conditions.
posted by stargell at 4:30 PM on January 9, 2008


This is a great metaphor for global climate change.
posted by anthill at 4:53 PM on January 9, 2008


American cars don't have rain lights.

Americans who own European cars with rain lights never use them, because they don't know they have them or don't know what they are for.

Now, how many people are reading this and saying "what the hell are 'rain lights'?"

My point exactly.
posted by wfc123 at 6:41 PM on January 9, 2008


Rain lights on a Mini Cooper
posted by wfc123 at 6:56 PM on January 9, 2008


So, it's a light on the back of the car? Can't you just turn on your normal lights which will do the same thing?
posted by smackfu at 7:27 PM on January 9, 2008


Shouldn't you have your lights on anyway if it's raining? (That people don't automatically do this, and that cars aren't made so that if the wipers go on, so do the lights, drives me fucking crazy.)
posted by rtha at 7:55 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I believe that in California, it's now law that lights must go on when windshield wipers do. And yet there are still those idiots who drive without them. I was on the interstate during the major storm last week (NOT fun) and saw at least a couple of people cruising through the pouring rain, no lights at all. It's like they have some sort of deathwish.
posted by zbaco at 8:31 PM on January 9, 2008


I seen the smoke and fire, and the markets burnin' down...
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 8:48 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, it's a light on the back of the car? Can't you just turn on your normal lights which will do the same thing?

Also called rear fogs - They're brighter than the regular running lights, closer to the brake lights. Some cars (like wfc123's MINI) have a pair, many others a single one usually on the left light cluster - If you've ever driven behind and Audi or a Volvo for example, and noticed one additional bright red light and chuckled that the poor sap needs to replace a bulb on the right side, you've seen them.

Americans who own European cars with rain lights never use them, because they don't know they have them or don't know what they are for.

Ha! - perhaps when (as in the MINI) the front and rear lamps are on separate switches. But given 80% of Americans drive with fog lamps blazing anytime any lights are on, the ones with 1 switch for both are using them, even if they don't know it.
posted by jalexei at 8:57 PM on January 9, 2008


The rule is to never drive at a speed beyond which you can see in time to stop. If road conditions are such that you can't see at all, you must slowly decelerate and pull over, until conditions improve enough to provide visibility. The sad lesson in this is that the trained first responders know this, and were forced by prudence to abandon rescue their efforts when faced with zero visibility.

Sad. Daytime running lights.

posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:11 PM on January 9, 2008


Note to killy willy: it's simply called Cajon Pass; El Cajon is a city, though you're right about properly applying the modifier in Spanish.

Also, as a SoCal survivor of many, many fires, my first question was: why didn't they shut DOWN the interstate (on preview, exactly the question killy willy had)? From what I read, there was a fire that got out of control (ok, happens), and then fog rolled in to make it a double whammy. Maybe I didn't read closely enough, maybe it was a detail that was left out, but doesn't it seem to be common sense to close down a highway in those conditions? Won't do much for the people already trapped, but it does help avoid making the situation worse.
posted by librarylis at 2:12 AM on January 10, 2008


Interestingly enough, the road is closed down today because of fog. Hey, better late than never!
posted by misha at 9:05 AM on January 10, 2008


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