Wipeout, Rural Ohio Style

John Scalzi

Our afternoon today was interrupted by a knock on the door and a young man standing on our porch. He had come to inform us he’d made a bit of a mess of our yard, down by the road. What happened was, it has been raining more or less constantly today, and the young man’s truck hit a patch of water on the road, hydroplaned, and then went into our yard.

Actually, there was more to the story, as the picture at the top of the piece here suggests. At the lip of our yard is a bit of a ditch, put there to channel water during really heavy rains. When he hydroplaned, it appears that his truck slid into the ditch, hit the incline of it pretty substantially, and then flew a truck length or so before it came back down into the yard. And yes, indeed, the young man made rather a mess of the lawn. And, probably, his truck.

Personally, while I appreciated that the first impulse of this young man was to drive up and admit to tearing up our turf, I wasn’t especially worried about the yard. It’s grass and dirt; we can replace and reseed it and put the roller on the lawn tractor to flatten it back down, and it’ll be fine. I was more worried about him and asked him if he was all right. He said he was (he also said he wasn’t sure about the state of his truck, however). That being the case, I told him that in that we were all good. Accidents happen. If the only damage is to a yard and a truck, we’re all ahead of the game, here.

The moral to this story, if there is one, is that honesty really is a good policy, and also, please be careful on rain-slick roads, because they will absolutely mess with you. Slow and steady gets you home, folks.

— JS

37 Comments on “Wipeout, Rural Ohio Style”

  1. Some years ago a bus went off the road and ended up on the lawn of the apartment building where I lived at the time. No injuries, no damage, it just needed a tow truck to get it back on the road.

    But from the tire tracks I could see that it had passed very close to a couple of utility poles. Just a little to the right or left of its actual track could have been a very serious accident.

  2. My father died in a car accident after hydroplaning across the meridian of I-5 into oncoming traffic. And he was a notoriously careful and slow driver.

    So yeah, be careful out there, folks. The laws of physics are immutable and not subject to appeal.

  3. My 15-year-old got her permit in October. The email notification for this blog post arrived as she was driving us to an appointment so I took the opportunity to teach/scare her a little.

    Just another service you provide, I suppose.

  4. My sister hydroplaned while accelerating on a left turn from a stoplight (she was not going especially fast; see: starting from a stoplight), spun, pinball-style hit a parked truck and a telephone pole… and all four occupants of the car were fine aside from one mildly sprained ankle, thank God and the makers of vintage Volvo car frameworks.

    If it’s wet, go slow and don’t expect the road to grip. If it’s snowy or icy, cut the speed and expectations all the way down.

    And if you do groove some turf, may you not need your own, more precisely cut-up rectangle of turf in a different location.

    (also: thanks for being willing to do any needed turf restoration yourself!)

  5. Thank you for sharing this story of an honest young man. I really needed to hear it just now. A little faith is restored…

  6. The aviation equation for minimum speed in knots at which your aircraft will begin hydroplaning on a runway is nine times the square root of your tire pressure. Translating that into mph the equation becomes, rounding off, ten times the square root of your tire pressure. Six is a typical square root for passenger car tire pressure, so you can expect to began experiencing hydroplaning in your vehicle around 60 mph.

    I keep my speed below 60 mph on wet roads for that reason, and am more than comfortable letting utterly everyone pass me by. I hydroplaned once and never want to experience it again. Having absolutely no control over a vehicle at speed may have been an E ticket ride but it’s not one I want to repeat.

  7. If only concern for the well-being of others and for other people’s property was what made the world go ’round.

  8. Not as weird as what happened to our neighbour, or rather two of our neighbours.
    We were at home one afternoon when there was a ring at the door and we answered to a very perplexed looking next-door neighbour who asked us “Do you know anything about this car in my garden?”
    We followed him up our drive to see a car on his front lawn, with its front corner resting just under his living room window. It clearly hadn’t been going very fast when it hit the wall, as it was only slightly crushed.
    We were all standing there scratching our heads, and suggesting he phone the police, when I looked across our cul-de-sac and noticed that the car lined up with the drive of the house opposite. The drive, and the neighbour’s garden, were both quite steep, as we live on a hill.
    The neighbour went to the other house to ask about the car to find the car’s owner had just reported it stolen from her drive. She had parked the car and gone into the house to pick something up, only to find it had vanished when she came out again. It turned out that it had a dodgy handbrake, which had clicked off by itself (which happened to me with a car once, fortunately with far less spectacular results), and the car had rolled gently down the steep slope and into the opposite garden.

  9. Not sure I believe that this was in rural Ohio. I don’t see a single tractor in the picture. ;)

  10. Wait. This was a young man? Who showed the presence of mind to be honest, alley you to the damage, and apologize instead of just fleeing the scene. I applaud him. We need more young people like that.

  11. I hope you’ve read Rex Stout’s “Some Buried Caesar”.
    If you haven’t 😳, read it. And be glad there wasn’t a bull in the pasture.

  12. #CCSS… depending upon your zip code… get ready for either more frequent flooding (ref: Pakistan’s mega-monsoon) or drought (ref: Utah) or alternating between drought & flooding (ref: California)…

    for sure Scalzi Compound (along with every home owner) would do well with checking not just those out-of-date federal flood maps but an updated relief mapping of contouring and elevations and drainage and effectiveness of absorption at destination for drainage…

    and then there’s need to actually read home owner insurance policy so you realize your property is nowhere as well covered for disasters such as basement flooding experienced just about ==everywhere== as you were told by glib-mouthed insurance brokers

  13. As a teenager, I skidded on some ice and ended up in someone’s front yard (no damage). I apologized to the homeowner and he helped me back off of his front yard. Thank you.

    I’ve hydroplaned and many times had to deal with slippery ice. After 60 years, no problems. One has to sense traction constantly, under bad conditions.

    I have a steep driveway, plus all-wheel drive. If I slid down my driveway and across the road, I would crash over my neighbor’s landscaping and maybe into her house. So when parking, I always turn the wheel so I would instead simply turn into my own yard.

    I don’t know what the speed limit is on your road, but I suspect the young man was going a bit fast.

  14. Oddly, this reminds me of something that happened decades ago when I was driving to work.

    It was winter, and the back roads were covered in packed snow (almost ice). The main highways were better kept, but the traffic was horrible.

    So I took the back roads. On a fairly sharp turn, I saw a car coming in the other direction going so fast that he was sliding into my lane. I slowed down. (I am sure the entire Scalzi clan understands that stopping was not possible). He managed to also slow down, and got back into his lane and made a rude gesture.

    Three days in a row, the exact same thing happened. Well, except the the gestures got more vehement.

    On the fourth day, I hit the stoplights or something, but by the time I reached that curve, I was running a few minutes late. At that same curve, there was his car, sitting about two car lengths off the road, in a farm field. That field was of course covered in snow, so I could see that there were no tire tracks leading to where the car came to a stop. There were footprints leading away, but no tire tracks.

    So, all I could figure was that without me to make him slow down, he drove as fast as he wanted, and slid all the way over to the oncoming lane. Far enough to hit the pile of ice and icy snow that had filled up the ditch, and flew two car lengths into the field.

    Since there were footprints and there were no emergency vehicles, I fell safe in feeling a little schadenfreude

  15. John Scalzi:

    I would assume your wife could add more specifics…

    general briefing note to all readers listing basic steps… nobody ever reads their policy paragraph-by-paragraph… I did that with my father and we had to go to a nearby law school’s library (pre-web) to request access to definitions to stuff that boiled down to — mentioning just one example — “you are a fool in expecting us to replace all broken windows following a storm with glass of equal quality”…

    I assembled a sixty-plus step checklist for him to share with neighbors ‘n relatives in how to document possessions and what it would take to file a claim… one important step: storing copies of all receipts and inventory sheets with someone living at least five miles away

    every apartment renter policy I’ve looked into since 1989 for myself had such tangled clauses a team of Talmudic scholars would need to expend a thousand pages of plain prose to explain ’em to ordinary folk

  16. Have you considered instead of renewing the grass planing flowering plants to encourage pollinating fauna to come visit?

  17. My driving instructor, almost fifty years ago, had his first career with the Kansas Highway Patrol. Investigating and collating accident statistics. He said a couple of things that stuck.

    If you lost traction for half a second, you were out of control; getting back in control means you were lucky.
    And, every accident he looked into could have been mitigated or prevented by more care.

    That said, I and most of my cousins have driven over most of the Midwest; and been lucky. And apologized.

  18. Or leave a 30 foot un-mowed ‘buffer’ zone to see what comes up naturally?

    A club I belong to plowed a field for planting last year but didn’t get around to it. Came up weeds. Milkweeds. USDA saw those and swooned – great habitat for (endangered) Monarch butterflies ;-)

  19. FL Transplant said “you can expect to began experiencing hydroplaning in your vehicle around 60 mph.”

    That sounds FAR too high. I’ve hydroplaned at speeds much lower than 60. Surely it depends on how much water is on the road.

    I suspect that your rule of thumb works for planes, because runways are built straight and slightly crowned. Roads, otoh, always have places where water will collect.

  20. Howard_NYC:

    By law, so my wife tells me, and she is in a position to know, insurance policies in Ohio are written so that someone with an eighth grade reading level can understand them. Perhaps it is different in your state.

    That said, we’re wandering off topic to this comment thread, so let’s table this particular discussion.

  21. Also, don’t neglect your tires. I see way too many people driving around with very badly worn tires. This is a recipe for losing control on wet roads.

  22. Many years ago I lost traction on the way home from work on a snowy Christmas morning, did a complete 360 (yes I wound up facing the same way I started) taking out a mailbox on the way. I walked to the house and reported what I’d done and told them I couldn’t even FIND the mailbox, it must have flown. They said thanks for telling them and don’t worry about it. I still remember how thankful I was for their kindness.

  23. Saw a lot of this in my formative years – in heavy rains, water streamed across the road outside our house, just at the point the road curved in an S-bend.
    Cars came round the lower bend and started to aquaplane into the oncoming traffic. By the time the driver (over)corrected, a second or so later, the tyres were clear of the water, the S-bend had straightened out, and the car ended up thumping into the garden wall.
    One spectacular example actually left parallel scars on the stone ( O–O ) where the spinning wheels had hit side-on.
    Most we had in a single day? Three.
    TL:DR version – expect more of the same in heavy rains. Until you can get the road changed. And stay away from there when it’s wet…

  24. Derek Broughton: I suspect you’re right. Road quality, depth of tire tread, and water depth will all be factors that in aviation are much more strictly controlled than on our roads. I still find it to be a good rule of thumb, though, and it’s worked for me.

    Granny Roberta: When I lived in the country I expected to have to rebuild our mailbox at least a couple of times a year. My actual mailbox was made of some type of hard rubber so it was highly survivable; the box it came in had a picture of a bulldozer driving over one with the logo “It’s Indestructible!” You could always tell which of our neighbors had never lived out in the country before; they’d install fancy expensive mailboxes that wouldn’t survive their first Halloween much less the following winter.

    I did embed a thick pipe in concrete a half foot or so from the mailbox on the side traffic came from to at least give it a sporting chance against the kids with baseball bats who’d drive down the roads in the fall after football games trashing mailboxes, but the defense was worthless against the county snowplows.

  25. We live in an Austin TX suburb on a street with 30 mph speed limit. A distracted driver drifted toward the stone mailbox across the street from our home and over corrected. She hit the raised edge of our driveway. The car went airborne over the deep culvert and hit our attached garage with such force that limestone blocks flew across the garage. Fortunately no one was hurt. The driver was lucky because the car trajectory was between a mature oak tree and our limestone mailbox. A photo of the car sticking out of our garage wall was featured in the local newspaper. Insurance covered everything; however, it was still a massive pain in the butt to restore our home and front yard.

    I am happy your yard is large enough to avoid a similar vehicle/home collision.

  26. As a retired commercial pilot (but still fly my own old plane), I’m glad to see the hydroplaning rule quoted here–and I’d say “don’t round up to 10, go ahead and use 9 in the calculation.” For, say, 36 psi tire pressure, that would yield 54, rather than 60, mph–a nontrivial difference.

    Last Tuesday, on my way back from the airport (northern California), I drove past a “road closed” sign, saw a good deal of water at the usual low spot, and turned around. I later learned that someone tried to drive through there anyway that day…and drowned in her car after calling 911.

    Don’t be tempted, people!

  27. hardwon lesson by every taxi driver in NYC (including my father): first ten minutes of any rain are most dangerous

    all the oil-grease-rubber-scraps combine with water into something akin to friction-less lubricant… flat road, daytime, good tires, sober driver and still my dad lost control along a notorious curve on highway… good news was after enough fatalities the guard railing in 1970s had been reinforced sufficiently he bounced rather than plunging off at 55 MPH down slope to old growth trees… of course that was pre-SUV…

    as for me, unless there was a dire need to be somewhere important, I’ve always waited out those ten minutes before leaving a parking lot (shopping mall or movie megaplex or big box) … and 3-outta-10 times there’d be a couple cars pulled off to the side, drivers exchanging info… or worse

  28. For a moment I considered repeating the stunt, just to have an excuse to come to your door and meet you in person.

  29. I’m glad it worked out well for you and for him.

    I’d approach a strangers door, especially in the rurals, with great trepidation. People are very suspicious and distrustful these days, and innocent interactions can and do go sideways in a hurry.

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