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Convoy Safety

Getting home from a group drive alive and unscathed is a blessing. It's hard to imagine that something so exciting and fun can actually be dangerous. In all three MAA events and countless local club convoys I have been in, we have had near misses but fortunately accidents are rare. Nobody wants to have a fun and memorable event turn into one that is marked by someone getting hurt or killed. It can happen.

1. Following Distance

Most close calls are a result of following to close and changing lanes abruptly. With a diverse group of people and cars, each one has their own stopping and reaction time. A 1996 Cobra braking to avoid an obstacle will surely have the '67 Mustang following him in his trunk if he is being followed to close. The older cars have vastly different handling and braking dynamics than newer cars. This has to be accounted for in distance. While traffic schools have been touting the 2 second rule for following distance, they are changing to adopt a 4-5 second rule. We agree. This allows enough distance to better compensate for the differences in car ability and driver reaction. Further, it creates a larger gap to allow neighboring traffic room to maneuver.

 

2. Entering / Exiting Highways

A convoy is a solid line of cars. If a group enters a freeway without carefully merging, it can cause mass disaster. Imagine a zipper coming together. You don't enter a highway as a convoy; you are an individual at this point.

Exiting can offer up a surprise danger when stopped cars start stacking up onto the off ramp and into the slow lane of the highway. If you have 20 or more cars, expect this. Alert the group via CB to start braking early so that you not only avoid hitting each other, but so oncoming traffic it not surprised as well. This is a prime condition where it is wise to have police traffic control to block the intersection at the end of an off-ramp so that your group does not back up onto the freeway.

Never, never park a convoy on the shoulder. Don't. Don't. Don't. This is extremely dangerous for a variety of reasons. First you create a spectacle for other drivers and place your selves at risk of creating an accident at the hands of rubber-necking drivers. Second, people often get out of their cars to look at their own show. Again, if there is an accident you are now in standing in harm's way. A highway is no place to be standing around. Lastly, when the group goes to enter the roadway, everyone instinctively enters at once. This effectively blocks the entire lane for a couple moments until everyone gets up to speed. Imagine cruising along the freeway and the slow lane suddenly stops.

Case in point: In Nashville 1994 we had a police escort who actually instructed us to get onto the freeway, drive one mile and pull over on the shoulder. He then would enter the freeway and escort us to the County line. So, 145 Mustangs get on the freeway and park. Everyone exited their cars and walked up on the hill to photograph the wonderful sight despite repeated calls on the CB to stay in their cars. The policeman drove by to do his escort and nobody was ready to roll. The purpose of the whole thing is now lost. Then everyone rushes to their cars and hastily merge onto the freeway into morning traffic. We had a one mile long line of cars moving into the slow-lane at once. There was a rise in the road just prior to the group so cars and trucks coming down the pike couldn't see the line of cars until they were right on top of us. A cement truck was traveling at 65 mph when a mass of classic Mustangs suddenly blocked his lane. Locking up his brakes and going into a slide, he careened off onto the shoulder between to Mustangs, missing them by inches - a cement truck. The dangers are real.

This had been deviation from our plan which we went along with in because a traffic officer ordered it. In hindsight, he was wrong. I would have never arranged it this way. It is imperative as a group leader to keep everyone's safety in mind and think through every mile of your route, how you are going to get in and out of every stop. If you are ever in a position where you are pressed to do something you are unsure about by a police officer, ask questions and point out your concerns. Share the dynamics of the deal and they will usually see your point when traffic safety is involved - it is their job after all.

3. Speed

We have covered this in other sections, but in my experience this is an area that most convoy participants have had trouble with. People who choose to participate in a group caravan want to be part the group, not left behind and alone. This is a sociological dynamic that cannot be removed, it's etched in. There is a mathematical theorem here.

A car leaves a parking lot and 100 cars follow it. It takes 20 minutes for all the cars to exit the lot and get onto the freeway. The 100th car is already 20 miles behind the pack if the first car is traveling at 60 miles per hour. The first thing people do once on the freeway is speed to catch up and make the formation tight. It will take the 100th car 2 hours at ten mph faster than the 1st car to catch up. Think about this. Add local traffic, stoplights, and other obstacles into the mix and you will have a situation where some people will seemingly be racing at 70 to 75 mph all day and may never catch up to the lead car traveling at 60 mph. It is hard to explain this physics lesson to frustrated people at your event, but it's a fact.

The byproduct of this phenomenon is that some drivers will be speeding and placing themselves at risk. The convoy leader can compensate to some degree by starting out the drive a bit slower than planned cruising speed to allow people to catch up. Utilizing the CB, the rear can communicate when this happens and then speed up. The best way to deal with this is take it easy and allow the natural order of things to just be. A convoy does not NEED to be a tight pack, you will all get there.

4. Weather

Weather can turn fast. In all MAA events we experienced inclement weather that most people would never drive their prized ponies in, but once your are there , you are there. I'm talking snowy blizzard conditions in Arizona, hail storms in Louisiana, and demonic rain in Texas. Almost every time, it was sunny and pleasant the morning of our departure. Prepare participants for the possibility that bad weather will be a part of the drive. When it happens tell people to do what they feel comfortable with. If they want to stop and wait it out, encourage them to do so. If you are comfortable to press on, do it. Everyone has their threshold of driving confidence and willingness to expose their garage queen to the elements. Besides, we all know that high performance muscle cars are a handful on slippery roads and hail can destroy.

5. Driver's Meetings

I always started our drives with a brief driver's meeting to lay out the day's route and point out items of concern with people. This serves as an opportunity to remind everyone about etiquette, safety issues, and schedule. It keeps the little voice in the back of people's heads alive from day to day. Further it allows you to bring to light any changing parameters or conditions like weather, road construction, etc….Call the local Highway Patrol or Transportation authority and ask for current conditions. Have information about what lies ahead.

 

 
 

• MAA Alumni planning 2007 Caravan drive to Mustang, OK for the MCA National show in April!


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