Monday, May 23, 2016

Dodging a different kind of danger on the highway

Recently, Land Line’s online website polled readers, asking if their truck had ever been shot at or had rocks thrown at it? Of those who responded, 51.72 percent said yes; 31.03 percent said no; and 17.24 percent said they thought so, but weren’t sure.

The rash of random rock-throwing and shootings on our interstates has become a growing concern of truckers, motorists, law enforcement and, well, everyone who spends any amount of time on our nation’s super slabs. All drivers – and passengers – are at risk, but when it comes to who spends the most time out there, truckers win hands down. 

Wonder how long it will be before innovative truck makers will be introducing new super-light but highly effective armor on highway models, with a new spray-on polycarbonate bulletproof windshield and Kevlar-reinforced tires? Seriously. Armored cars are big business these days in many parts of the world.

In the current news is a report of a trucker shot on a Chicago expressway on May 19. The 68-year-old truck driver was shot in the face while bobtailing on the Dan Ryan Expressway. According to the police report, someone in a passenger car pulled alongside and opened fire, shattering the driver’s-side window. Afterward, witnesses say the tractor began veering and then stopped in the center lane. The wounded trucker got out and collapsed. Today, Chicago’s ABC7 reported he was recovering. The shooter is still at large. 

This is the third expressway shooting in Chicago in a week. The Chicago Tribune reported the police said there had been at least 20 highway shootings in 2016. In the statistics, truckers are not distinguished from motorists.

This sounds like a number that might lead the national list far and away. But it’s not. A quick Google search tells you that the recent incidents in California’s Bay Area since November have now reached 20, with most on I-80, Highway 4 and some on Highway 101 and Interstates 580 and 880.

Do you recall the shootings in Tulsa County, Okla., in February that terrorized Highway 75 for two nights? Nearly a dozen Wal-Mart trucks and two cars were shot at. Police arrested two 14-year-old boys who were out hunting and decided to do some target practice. They said they didn’t mean any harm.

Last week in Florida, four people were injured in one of three pellet-gun shootings on I-295 in Jacksonville – the assailant is still at large. The week before that, a New Jersey trucker was shot and killed while trucking on eastbound I-10, this one police say was another trucker who pulled up beside him and fired.

Of course, the latest outbreak is a continuation of a history of many, many snipers. The Beltway or D.C. snipers killed 10 people and injured three back in 2002.

I remember clearly how menacing it was when a guy was shooting at motorists here in the Kansas City area about two years ago. I drove through the area (where I-70 becomes I-470) twice a day. The guy was shooting from his own car with a .380 pistol. There were about a dozen shooting incidents and three people were injured. When they caught him, police said he seemed to have absolutely no motive.

In 1953, a roving shooter shot three truckers in separate incidents as they slept while parked in different locations off the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Two of the three truckers died. OOIDA Life Member John Taylor remembers it well and says truckers carried firearms and guarded each other during naps during the rampage. The shooter was captured and executed in 1955. Taylor said the police never said why he did it.

Whether you are driving or parked sleeping, these stories lend a darker meaning to phrases like defensive driving and the friendly “travel safe.”

The New York Daily News writer Mara Bovsun described the actions of the Pennsylvania Turnpike gunman and wrote in 1955 that it “forever changed the habits of interstate truckers, who learned that being encased in a steel behemoth offers no security against a maniac with a gun.”