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Big Rig Wreck on DC Beltway Teaches Many Safety Lessons

Two drivers suffered injuries when a tractor-trailer slammed into the rear of a line four stopped vehicles on I-495 near Fairfax, Virginia (VA), on May 23, 2011.

The sentence seems unremarkable until you look at this NBC Washington video of the aftermath of the chain-reaction crash:

According to, the five-vehicle pileup began when a car stalled and stopped in the center right lane of the broad highway. A box truck and two other cars fell into line quickly, becoming sitting ducks for the big rig. Everyone who got stuck, police noted in their accident report, stayed seated and buckled up with seat belts while awaiting help.

As mangled as the cars did become in the rear-end crash, no people died. The one woman who needed to be pried from her vehicle by rescuers using the Jaws of Life had only non-life-threatening injuries.

The tractor-trailer driver is facing reckless driving charges, which is common when the operator of a large commercial truck is determined to be at fault for a traffic accident that causes injuries or deaths.

Many important lessons about how to stay safe while sharing the highway come from this wreck. I'd rank the lessons in this order:

  1. Wear a seat belt in any vehicle, and keep infants and young children in age- and size-appropriate safety seats. As Virginia State Trooper Brian Davis told, "Wearing a seat belt probably saved two lives. That was a life-saving decision that they made that day."
  2. Leave enough distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you so you can come to a full stop should something unexpected occur. Also, obey the posted speed limit. Both of these safe-driving essentials are particularly important for drivers of large commercial trucks.
  3. Get over to the shoulder, preferably the right-hand one, if you start having engine trouble. Stopping in a lane of interstate traffic sets the stage for a fatal accident. It also makes it more difficult for emergency workers to reach you and take you to safety.
  4. Maintain your car, truck, SUV, van, motorcycle -- whatever you drive -- so you don't blow a tire, run out of gas or lose power.

Many accidents caused by semis, 18-wheelers, tour buses, tractor-trailers and tanker trucks can be survived. Even more such accidents can be prevented altogether by taking these four lessons to heart.


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