'The Interstates Turned Into a Skating Rink'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader writes:

In 1998 I drove from Austin to southern Illinois in my ‘89 Dodge Ramcharger truck. I started running into freezing rain outside of Dallas, going over Ray Hubbard Reservoir, and decided to keep going. Rather than getting better, it got worse—all the way through Texarkana and beyond. The interstates turned into a skating rink and still I kept going. The drive usually takes 15 hours, but by the time I made it 15 hours, I was only in central Arkansas.

Traffic was going by at a crawl when a commercial truck passed everyone in the left lane at 35-40 mph, left the highway, and went nose-first—hard—into the median’s ravine. I stopped to check on the two guys in the truck, and one had hit his chest on the steering wheel and was not in good shape, shocky, and coughing blood.

Of course nobody had cell phones, and nobody else stopped to help but me. Via sign language, I was finally able to get someone to call the state police as they drove by. The temps were in the teens and the wind was blowing at 30 mph, so I got the two guys in my truck, blasted the heater, and kept the one guy talking so he wouldn’t go unconscious.

State troopers showed up, I had to fill out a statement, and I immediately went looking for a motel before they all filled up with other refugees from I-40. I stayed in a motel that wasn’t much more than a set of prefabs: a bed, a TV, a bathroom, a radio and some paneling. By that point, it was the best motel I had ever seen.

The next day, when I got going again, there was a big rig in the median about every five miles. Worst driving conditions I ever traveled in.

Have you ever confronted a terrible accident during your travels? Drop us a note and we’ll post?