You know how it happened.
The carnage Monday afternoon on the 120 Bypass.
It wasn’t because the freeway is defective.
It wasn’t because of mechanical failure.
And it wasn’t an accident.
One person is dead. Two have major injuries. Six others were hurt. And seven vehicles are headed for the scrap yard.
It happened because some people feel that they can’t lose 10, 15 — maybe 50 — seconds by moving over earlier into the right lane to head toward Modesto at the Highway 99 transition. Fifty lousy seconds for what? So you can get home to plop down on the couch and text someone about how bad the commute was, watch a cat video on YouTube, or perform some other task worth risking your life and the lives of strangers?
Everyone sees a semi-truck is involved and most think it was the trucker’s fault.
I’ve got bad news for you. Perhaps the trucker might have been going what some of us would deem too fast for conditions. That said how many times have you seen drivers — or been the one — that bust their necks to get in front of a truck before an off ramp comes up or the 99 transition?
All it takes is for someone to slow down as a driver cuts over and suddenly the safe distance the trucker was struggling to keep is gone. Your car weighs around 4,000 pounds. A truck fully loaded can weigh 80,000 pounds. If you think a truck can stop as quickly as you can then there’s no other way to say this and still be polite — you are a complete idiot.
The miracle on Monday is that there was only one dead and not three or five. That has everything to do with modern vehicle design and passenger restraints.
And speaking of divine intervention, please refrain from calling what happened an accident. Whoever caused it may not have been thinking about the potential consequences of their actions and it may not have been deliberate but there is no way it was an accident.
The reason is simple. Arguably 95 out of every 100 drivers on the 120 Bypass at the height of the commute and most other times have been there before. They aren’t tourists or people passing through for the first time.
If you are eastbound and approaching Main Street and see the traffic slowdown in the right lane and you don’t think about moving over sooner than later but make a conscious effort to cut as far to the front of the line as you can, then what happens is not an accident. You have made a conscious decision that your time is more valuable than people who are being more patient. The problem is other people are going to pay the price for your impatience.
Sheer volume alone justifies the proposed Caltrans remedy at the 120 Bypass/99 interchange. The reason it is being fast tracked — and targeting 2021 is indeed fast track considering what needs to be done before dirt is turned — is due to people who view themselves as entitled and above the rules of the road.
They’re entitled not to have to move in a slower line longer. They’re entitled to race to the front and cut over at the last possible second.
Not saying that was the case Monday, but there’s a good chance who ever made the move that started the chain reaction of brake lights going on was a dozen or so vehicles in front of the impact area. They may have made it to the 99 and wherever they were going without realizing there was even a massive wreck.
That said, it is clear more than a few people were following a bit too close.
But why do most people do that?
It’s to prevent the jerks that wait until the last possible second to cut them off.
Maintaining what is considered a safe distance only invites people to speed to the front of the line, cut over at the last minute and slam on their brakes. While that doesn’t justify the driver already in the right lane from not keeping a safe distance, the law of the asphalt jungle teaches you pretty quick that it just makes the delay worse for everyone behind you. In short, if motorists in the right lane maintained a car length for every 10 mph as recommended it would invite even more kamikaze drivers to wait until the last second to merge.
It is why the Caltrans plan to have two lanes to head toward Modesto makes sense — to a point.
That’s because what is now the left lane will have a lane to its left where drivers will do what they are doing now — cutting off people in a que to save a few seconds before they get in a lane that allows them to make a transition to Highway 99 south.
Based on previous remedies similar to the 120 Bypass, it will help reduce the carnage.
Until then — and even after then — we all need to drive with the clear understanding the road isn’t our exclusive domain and that by not driving to save a few seconds here and there means the odds are improved that some kid won’t lose a mom or dad, a parent won’t lose a child, or someone won’t die.
If you don’t drive like lives depend on it, you know what will happen.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.