Saturday, 24 October 2009

Hero Driver

We travelled to Brisbane yesterday using the section of the Warrego Highway that has to be one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the country.

It’s dangerous because of two poorly engineered sections – one at the beginning of the journey east from Toowoomba – the other towards the end of it. The range section (locally known as the “Toll Bar”) is dodgy because of the mix of slow and faster moving traffic compressed by a very steep descent. It takes an enormous volume of heavy traffic which also passes through the centre of town.

Many of the trucks refuel at Toowoomba, and as they head down the range, the slope causes distillate to spill from poorly-sealed tanks on to the road surface, which is often damp and slippery to start with. This is particularly bad in the early hours of the morning when dew sets in, but it can be risky at any time. A mixture of distillate and water is used to create a skid pan for advanced driver training, so you can imagine the effect on a steep public road.

The second risky bit is the Ipswich bypass, which is overcrowded, narrow, and infested with trucks. The speed limit has been dropped from 100kph to 90kph, and this has helped a little. It means that the B Double sitting two metres from your rear bumper will hit with a little less force before it punts you into oncoming traffic. They are spending squillions on it as I write.

We went down the range with no dramas – it was waiting to bite us on the return journey – but we had a lucky escape on the bypass. We were tooling along at 90km when, out of nowhere, a Toyota 4WD ute crossed the median strip and was heading straight for us. The driver’s head seemed buried in something in his lap – probably a mobile phone. In my experience, tradies are the worst offenders when it comes to using phones on the go. The thing had bucked and bounced its way across a drainage trench, but had remained upright.

I flicked the wheel violently to the left, and he went behind us. I waited for the sound of an impact because there was following traffic, but none came. He was lucky, and so was everyone else involved. The result of a combined impact of two vehicles travelling at 90kph would not have been pretty. It took quite a while for the adrenaline to subside. My bride actually swore – a rare occurrence.

On the return journey that afternoon, we arrived at the bottom of the range to discover the eastbound lane completely closed, with police and emergency vehicles everywhere. Apparently a truck had come to grief on the way down, taking two other vehicles with it. Eastbound traffic was diverted into one of the westbound lanes, and chaos ensued. Our ascent took three quarters of an hour. It usually takes 5 minutes.

The local rag hailed the driver as a “hero”. I wonder what kind of “hero” takes a heavy vehicle with dodgy brakes down a steep and crowded public road? The cabin had “Afterburner” writ large across the front. Obviously this “hero” has delusions that he drives a fighter jet.

The police have impounded the truck.

I hope they throw the book at him.
(Photo courtesy of the Toowoomba Chronicle).

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...