Joe Trifiletti, a driver for Con-way Freight and a member of Kansas Road Team, has driven a truck for 23 years. He has more than 1.5 million safe miles of driving. Joe shares a story of one of his trips below.
Although there are many things I have seen on the roads of Kansas and the other parts of America that I have travelled, one event has brought me back to safety time and time again.
Here it is.
On a cold December night in 2006, I was on my return trip to Wichita from Kansas City. It was a Friday night, after a long week, I had some plans for the next afternoon with my family. I was looking forward to going home. I was just south of Olathe on Interstate 35 when a car passed me. The driver was too close for comfort when he passed, so I backed off to give him some space. As we drove a bit farther, I noticed the car move to the left lane. No signal was given. Then the driver put on his right turn signal, and returned to the right lane. This happened two or three more times. I had become very alert and allowed more distance between myself and the swerving car. As I was thinking of alerting the authorities the car strayed from its lane again, only this time it went onto the shoulder. I was reaching for my cell phone when the vehicle abruptly overcorrected. What happened next will haunt my life and career forever.
After following this car for at least two miles, the driver lost control. The car hit an embankment on the shoulder of the highway with the front end of the car, spun out of control and came to rest on the shoulder of the highway. I immediately pulled over to the right shoulder, and radioed to the truck behind me to call 911. Two other cars pulled over but nobody got out of their car.
I got out of my truck, and approached the vehicle and noticed that the interior lights, as well as, the other lights of the vehicle were on. I looked in the windows of the car and saw no one in the car. The car was clean, only one window was broken, and I noticed a basketball on the floor in the back seat. I retraced my steps, flashlight in hand, scanning the area for the driver. The worst thing you can imagine was what I found. The driver of the car did not make it through the accident.
All of the safety devices of the vehicle seemed to work fine. The crumple zones built in to modern cars did what they were supposed to do. The engine and drivetrain broke away and were driven towards the undercarriage of the vehicle. The passenger compartment was intact and there appeared to be no damage. The one safety component of the vehicle did not do what it was supposed to do was the driver’s seat belt. It was unbuckled. I believe that had the driver buckled his safety belt, he would have survived that accident. So when someone asks me what they should do when they enter a vehicle. My answer is obvious: BUCKLE YOUR SEAT BELT!
That was a very hard night for me, but I am sure it was harder for the family of the young man who was the driver. I hope no one ever has to deal with this type of situation, and perhaps you won’t if you buckle your seat belt.