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HomeNL-2011-12 Road Safety

Road Safety
   by Charles Zipprian


As canoeists and kayakers we are often traveling down the highway.  Some of these highways are isolated with very little traffic.  The following write-up is what happened at high noon on a clear sunny day.

The Event at the Intersection of Hwy 41 and Hwy 27


The front end of the Honda explodes spraying shards of debris for a hundred feet down the highway. The Dodge truck’s impact was just forward of the Hxxonda’s front wheels and sheared off everything from the front wheels forward including the radiator cooling fan. The energy of the impact was so great, the Honda was spun with such force that the car’s trunk dug a foot deep into the truck’s sidewall puncturing the gas tank.

This is a true story and written down as clearly as I can remember. Starting from the beginning of the story, it was a beautiful clear sunny November day, November 13th to be exact. We were traveling along a long stretch of highway a couple of hours west of San Antonio. Traffic was light with only a couple other vehicles on the road. The car ahead of me was an older silver Honda. We were approaching a stop sign at the intersection of Hwy 41 and Hwy 21. The Honda comes to a full stop and after a moment begins to slowly roll forward. As is my habit, I watch the car in front of me until it clears my path. After watching the Honda roll forward for a few seconds, thinking the Honda would soon accelerate and clear the intersection, I look to my left changing my focus from the Honda to scan for any oncoming traffic. I see a new red Dodge pick-up traveling at full speed, less than three seconds from the intersection. (The pick-up was in full view of the Honda, but the driver wasn’t looking.) I look back to the Honda and it takes me a partial second to realize the driver was still slowly rolling forward. No jerk of acceleration, just the slow creep of a car under normal idling with no brake applied. The Honda was now fully into the oncoming truck’s lane. With the Dodge one second from the intersection, I reached to sound my horn to warn the Honda driver. My hand never reaches the horn when the two vehicles collide.

The front end of the Honda explodes spraying shards of debris for a hundred feet down the highway.  The Dodge truck’s impact was just forward of the Honda’s front wheels and sheared off everything from the front wheels forward including the radiator cooling fan.  The energy of the impact was so great, the Honda was spun with such force that the car’s trunk dug a foot deep into the truck’s sidewall puncturing the gas tank.  The Honda’s front and rear bumpers were thrown over thirty feet from the vehicle.

 

The Honda ends up fifty feet from the intersection with the engine and upper frame sitting on the pavement.  The Dodge driver had crossed over into the oncoming traffic lane trying to avoid the Honda.  The impact had torn the front passenger wheel from the housing causing the lower tie-rods to gouge into the payment until the truck came to a full stop in the far ditch one hundred and seventy-five feet past the intersection.  I pulled over and assisted all the passengers as they exited from the vehicles. 

 

The driver of the Honda had been looking at a map held by the passenger and never knew the car was rolling forward.  When the truck collided, since the driver had her head turned toward the passenger seat, the back of the drivers head impacted with the door window giving her a concussion.  Ambulances, rescue trucks, and a multitude of police officials arrived at the scene.  While with the EMT techs, the Honda driver began having complications and the decision was made to life flight her to the San Antonio trauma center as a precaution.  All of the other five passengers in the vehicles had been wearing seatbelts and aside from each having strap burns and bruises, no one else was injured.

 

I sit here tonight typing up this story for a purpose.  In this story, the Honda made a near fatal mistake of not watching the road and her surroundings.  But what of the Dodge driver, could she have prevented the accident?  Looking at the pure physics of the event, the Dodge driver had a clear view of the Honda for approximately 10-15 seconds at a minimum.  She would have seen the Honda pull up to the stop and then slowly move forward.  A truck traveling sixty mph would travel ¼ mile in 15 seconds or 1,320 feet in 15 seconds.  That is the length of 4 ½ football fields.  The truck could have easily stopped in that distance.  Several websites quote the stopping time and distance as 4.5 seconds and 271 feet for a truck at 60 mph.  So again, why did the accident happen?

 

Human Perception Time

 

Human Perception Time or HPT is the time required by a person to recognize a potential situation.  HPT varies with people and there is no standard time table.  I had the chance to overhear the Dodge truck driver’s description of events as she explained them to a HPD officer.  The driver said she “saw the car run the stop sign and had no time to stop or avoid the car.”  This statement was what the truck driver “saw.”  None of the three women in the Honda saw the Dodge truck before impact.

 

Since I was the only independent witness of the accident and the situation leading up to the accident, the DPS officer wanted a statement from me.  Having given my statement as described in detail above, the DPS officer and I chatted a bit about the accident.  He told me that statements from drivers involved in an accident are highly unreliable.  They color the events to cover their needs or are in too much shock to remember correctly.  Or what he believed was the case with this Dodge driver, simply didn’t recognize what the situation was until too late.  The officer pointed out that there was no skid marks, the truck driver never attempted to stop the truck before impact. It wasn’t until the last 90 feet of travel, 1 second, did the driver turned the wheel to avoid the car. 

 

Stay alert, stay open to situations, be careful, and give yourself enough HPT to make decisions.


 



 
 The author, Charles Zipprian