Friday, 5 October 2012. It was a beautiful day on Interstate 75 at the University Parkway exit. After all, University Parkway forms the county boundary between Manatee and Sarasota counties, separating Bradenton from Sarasota.
Until the rain moved in.
A mixture of rain plus fast moving traffic on southbound Interstate 75 made for a dangerous cocktail: A 47-vehicle pileup closing Interstate 75’s southbound lanes for several hours. Traffic was backed up as motorists had to exit Interstate 75 at University Parkway and re-enter Interstate 75 there.
Area hospitals went on trauma alert, expecting mass casualties. When a hospital goes on trauma alert, it reminds me of the scenes on TV’s ER, especially the part where Dr. Kerry Weaver (played by one of my favorite actresses, Laura Innes) rallies up the troops at Cook County General Hospital in Chicago. Luckily, in the Interstate 75 pileup no casualties were reported but according to Bay News 9 and the St. Petersburg Times, 52 people were injured with 22 people transported to area hospitals.
I left a comment at the St. Petersburg Times article giving some safety tips when you encounter adverse weather on the Tampa Bay region’s interstate highways including Interstate 275, and I would like to share them with you now that we are about to climb out of the summer afternoon thundershower season and slowly transition into the fall and winter cold front season where we have plenty of rainy weather as one of the cold fronts passes through our area. In fact, the Florida Highway Patrol trooper that was interviewed on Bay News 9 gave some great advice that you should follow when you encounter adverse weather out there on our highways.
70 mph (or the speed limit applicable in the area, such as most sections of Interstate 275 posted for 65 mph) is not always 70 mph. When you encounter adverse weather, driving conditions change in a heartbeat.
If you encounter adverse weather conditions, especially on Interstates 75, 275 or 4, slow your vehicle down. Turn on your low beam headlights and your wipers. A good rule of thumb: When the wipers come on, so does your low beam headlights. You must keep your vehicle under control at all times, especially during adverse weather conditions.
Don’t put your emergency flashers on when you are moving in the rain. Emergency flashers are meant for when your vehicle is disabled and off to the shoulder, not for when you are moving on the highway in the rain. Besides, someone can rear end you and it is against the law.
On a side note, I have seen a good number of motorists out there on Interstate 275 that use their emergency flashers when moving in the rain. All you need is your wipers and your low beam headlights (when you turn on your low beam headlights, your rear taillights come on as well); the use of parking lights, daytime running lamps as well as the use of your emergency flashers don’t comply with Section 316.217 and Section 316.2397 of the Florida Statutes.
If you have a recent model year car, chances are that your car is equipped with daytime running lamps that enable you to be seen during the day. Some cars even have a sensor that turns on the headlights for you when it gets dark. Evern if your car has that automatic headlight sensor, it is very important to know where your headlight switch is so that you can turn on your low beam headlights whenever you encounter adverse weather such as heavy rain or fog.
And one more thing: Don’t be in a hurry to get where you are going, especially when the weather gets bad. It’s better to be a few minutes late than several hours in the hospital ER, or worse. Also, if the weather deteriorates to the point where you can’t see, get off the interstate at the next exit and pull into a parking area (such as a gas station or convenience store) and wait until conditions are better.
And I forgot one more thing that you should do as a motorist when you encounter adverse weather on Interstate 275 or any other highway elsewhere: Put down that cell phone, iPhone, BlackBerry, Droid or any communications device and give driving your 150 percent attention, especially during adverse weather conditions. That all too important phone call, business transaction or text message can wait until you arrive safely at your destination.
On a side note regarding cell phone use and driving, while Florida has no law on that subject (and our legislators in Tallahassee need to stop being so lazy and enact such a law) California has a comprehensive law that bans the use of any communications device while behind the wheel. I recently got back from a trip to San Diego over the Labor Day weekend and I was reminded of the provisions of the no cell phone use law while driving per the California Vehicle Code when I went to pick up my rental car.
Let’s be careful out there on Interstate 275 as well as the other major highways in the Tampa Bay region, especially when you encounter adverse weather.