Driving from Washington to Floyd County is always an adventure, particularly if you take Interstate 81, which the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls one of the deadliest stretches of highway in the country. Left DC at 4 a.m. and the inbound traffic on I-66 was already heavy. Westbound traffic, however, all but disappeared once I cleared the city. I kept the Wrangler at 70 mph until we hit I-81. That's when the fun always begins.

Driving from Washington to Floyd County is always an adventure, particularly if you take Interstate 81, which the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls one of the deadliest stretches of highway in the country.

Left DC at 4 a.m. and the inbound traffic on I-66 was already heavy. Westbound traffic, however, all but disappeared once I cleared the city. I kept the Wrangler at 70 mph until we hit I-81.

That’s when the fun always begins.

I-81 is a major north-south route, which means lots of trucks. It also has lots of hills, which means lots of backups as trucks try to pass each other going up those hills.

Downhill, the truckers floor it, often blasting by at 80-90 mph as they try to build up momentum for the next uphill grade. Drive at 70 and traffic will run over you. The general rule of thumb says the safest speed to drive is with the flow of traffic. On I-81, that means 75-to-85 mph. It also means you hold your breath a lot as a multi-ton 18-wheeler parks his front bumper inches away from your rear bumper.

It’s an intimidation game. Truckers want cars out of the way and riding your rear bumper is one way to do it. It works on most people. It doesn’t work on me. I will complete my pass of a long line of cars and/or trucks and then move over but not before.

This trip was less eventful than most. I’ve ended up on the shoulder to avoid trucks that pulled out to pass without looking or that have braked suddenly when they come up on a slower car. A study of fatal accidents on I-81 over the past five years show 73 percent of them have been caused by, or involved, at least one 18-wheeler.

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2 Responses

  1. Easier said than done. Hard to stay away from a 10-ton truck when it’s sitting on your bumper while you’re passing another 10-ton truck.

    I did a photo eassy on truckers in 1974 and found professional drivers to be safety-minded and generally respectful of other motorists on the road.

    But the increase of independents and the pressures of time have also led to an increase of dangerous truckers. Add to that the general incompetence of many drivers of cars and you have a lethal combination.

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