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Daniel Eran

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photo Sharing Airspace
This last weekend I didn't have big plans, and it was just as well. On the way home I entered the airspace of a tow truck running short on time. I didn't actually check the drivers schedule, but I assume if you need to pull a high speed U-turn in the middle of the block without looking, you are in a big hurry.
I can totally empathize; I get in a rush sometimes too. Had I known I was headed into the path of someone who was that pressed for time, I would have parked and got a tea and read the paper, because I was, by comparison, not in a hurry at all. Since we were not able to compare notes in advance, I ended up totally slowing the guy down and putting even more on his plate with all the waiting for police and paramedic interviews and trading information and all.
photo I think all vehicles should have signal indicator lights for more than just right, left and brake. Seems like a small price to pay for the additional safety. Had he been signaling to make a sudden U-turn, things might have been different. Maybe a big light on the front and back and both sides of the vehicle that flashed a big red "U."
Cars, and particularly things as big as SUVs, should also have an "I'm on my cell phone" signal. It could also be turned on to signal "I'm driving erratically because I'm putting on makeup," or "Hey I didn't have time for breakfast so I'm eating a drippy McMuffin and its really hard to watch the road and also keep stuff from falling on my pants," or maybe "I propagated a lot of kids and it's unreasonable to expect them to all stay in their seatbelts and not chase the dog and a big bunch of balloons around inside this vehicle, so I might not see anything on the road smaller than my Suburban."

Maybe just a general "Erratic & Inattentive!!" signal would work for a variety of situations. A blinking American flag light would be perfect. It would be immediately recognized internationally as a warning icon for out of control, unpredictable and self consumed behavior. Many of the right vehicles already have flags on them, albeit usually tattered to rag status. They just need prominent illumination.
photo The tow truck did not have a flag, and certainly not a blinking one. Even if it had, I might not have noticed it before the truck planted itself perpendicular to the street, directly in my path. I tried to do a quick cost-benefit analysis in the last 50 feet while slowing down as fast as possible.
Option number one was the "do nothing" scenario. It would have resulted in squarely hitting the side of the truck. I have not hit anything from that angle before. I have been hit from the side by a car running a stop sign while I was riding a bicycle. I, acting as the impacted, took all the damage that time, but I think it had more to do with relative size and mass rather than positioning. Hitting the tow truck square would have had very Wyle E Coyote results for me. Nixed that plan.

Option two would involve dropping the bike and sliding along with it under the offending vehicle. I pulled this off successfully once before on a motorcycle. I was crossing Market Street in the rain when a driver coming at me decided he'd waited long enough to make his left turn and plowed across my path. Fortunately both our vehicles were going around 5 mph, so it was more like rough ballet than a violent impact. And his low bumper slowed my bike down enough to prevent my body from getting too far under his car, where it's all hot and dirty and unpleasant.
photo This second option seemed like a bad strategy to apply towards the tow truck situation. He had a lot of clearance under his vehicle, but I wasn't going fast enough to make it fully underneath his truck in an unpowered slide. I don't even think they could pull off that kind of trick in CGI, although the League did manage to cheat both physics and logic pretty well.
Making it all the way under would be critically important because following the void of open space under the middle of the truck were what looked like two sets of dually axles, for a total of 8 tires. A quick and rough estimate of the weight of the truck, number of wheels and the likely application of Murphy's Law, had me rule out that plan right off the bat. As much as I like eating hamburger, I really hate being hamburger.

Option three involved keeping the bike upright, swerving to the right and simply driving past the backend of the truck unscathed. I have had some excellent previous experiences in applying non-contact methodology toward accident scenarios, so this plan got the green light. Unfortunately, all my honking and tire screeching and the collective woosh of incredulous inhale from all the passersby prompted the driver to slow down just enough to position in my path the large chunk of metal that hangs out off the back of the truck. It was built to lift up heavy cars.

I remember thinking "dude, don't slow down now," just as the big metal thing stopped in front of me. With no more room in the physics handbook to allow for any changes in speed or positioning, I was forced to just watch in super slow motion as the offending obstacle imploded my headlight and reduced the speed of my bike relative to that of my body, sending me up and over the back of the truck.
photo As mirrors and signals and other vehicle peripherals exploded below and behind me in an orderly progression, I tried to recall what all is on the back of a tow truck, and the likelihood of hitting any more of it as my forward progression plateaued and I began my descent approach to the pavement in the middle of Mission Street between Seventh and Eighth, just past the construction site for the grand new Federal Building.

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I'm not dead yet! For yet more details of my crash, treatment and (hopefully) recovery, see:


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