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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Unannounced dangers

Brad Nelson Published on 29 May 2015

The other day, I was happily engaged at keeping the vehicle I was driving where it should be on the road. I was on a two-lane road in Nevada, and I was driving a Freightliner tractor with the good old 550-horse Cat engine. I was pulling triple hay trailers and the usual high, gusty winds west of Tonopah were making it an interesting drive.

The wind was a vigorous crosswind, blowing from my right. It was accompanied by a barrage of unannounced strong gusts from the same direction. My vehicle had enough weight to it to make it fairly easy to control. Other vehicles on the road did not share that advantage.

A constant crosswind can be dealt with by steering input. The driver needs to steer into the wind to keep the vehicle on the road. When there is an obstruction to the wind, that steering input will aim the vehicle too far in the direction the wind had been coming from.

As the terrain you are driving through changes, so must the steering input change. A large vehicle you meet may well obstruct the wind.

On this very windy day, I met a half-ton pickup pulling a moderate-sized travel trailer; I’m guessing about 24 feet long. I saw it coming from far enough away to see its antics as it met other trucks. The driver was on the far-right edge of the pavement in his lane.

As he would meet another truck, his unit would move toward the truck, then straighten out, and then as he moved past the truck and the full force of the 30-plus-mph side wind hit his vehicle, it would jerk toward the right side of his lane, with the trailer swaying violently several times before going back to being in line with the tow vehicle and the road.

I think the weight of the travel trailer was within the pickup’s towing weight rating. I did not notice whether or not there was a sway-control hitch in use.

I doubt anything would have made that combination of pickup and travel trailer safe in that wind. There is much to be said for a driver knowing when it’s time to park and wait for better conditions.

Should you encounter winds that you feel have a chance of blowing your vehicle off the road or of toppling it, find a place to get off the road and either hide behind a barrier to the wind or turn your vehicle directly into the direction of the wind and wait it out. Prudence is often the better part of valor.

Among the vehicles that may pose a danger on the road are these:

1. Any rental trailer, van or truck – There is a good chance the person driving has little or no experience with that size of vehicle. That means they will not have a “seat-of-the-pants” feel for where the vehicle is in its lane of travel, how much room it needs to make a turn or what constitutes a safe speed for making a turn.

How long it takes to get a rental vehicle up to the speed of other traffic may be an issue, so expect these vehicles to pull out in front of you from a stop sign too soon.

2. Motor homes, travel trailers, camper trailers, and cars or pickups towing another vehicle on a trailer are suspect for most of the same reasons as listed above. Note that a fifth-wheel type of travel trailer is usually more stable that a regular “bumper-pull” travel trailer.

Some operators of this class of vehicles may well be experienced with the unit they are operating to be safe in most conditions. Many, however, only use their toy once a year and may be a danger.

I have not listed pickups pulling stock trailers in the “possible danger” group. Most of the stockmen, cowboys and others with the big stock trailers use them regularly enough to be experienced operators.

3. Motorcycles – Most are OK. There are just enough riders out there with either the attitude or inexperience or feeling of immortality that makes everything on two wheels suspect.

I still remember the day I was passed on the freeway by a motorcycle traveling an estimated 90 to 100 mph – and he was doing a wheelie as he passed. My thought was, “Please don’t involve me or my vehicle in your suicide.”

4. Bicycles – Years back, on a two-lane road, one truck passed me. Another truck was beside my truck. The first truck passed a bicycle, and the wind wash blew over the bicycle into my lane.

I couldn’t move over; there was a truck beside me in the other lane. Thankfully, the rider was able to pick up his body and his bike and get both off the road in time.

The best rule for safe driving remains: Drive like you would if you knew that everybody else on the road was drunk or high on something. Enough of them really are to make driving spooky.  FG