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DRIVING WITH DIPSTICKS, A COLUMN BY BEN BRICKMAN

Hey, INDOT: Roadside reflector poles. Jusy sayin'

Monday, February 3, 2014 - 12:01 am

With age comes trepidation. The night of Jan. 26, a week ago Sunday, I saw the snow beginning to fall and decided to leave Merrillville for Fort Wayne. I was planning on leaving early Monday morning, but with the snow beginning to drop I thought that Monday morning might not work, and I tried to get ahead of the storm. I have an apartment in downtown Fort Wayne, but try to spend as many weekends and as much time as I can in Merrillville. This is due to my daughter and grandchildren being there. My daughter has two wonderful and energetic kids.

Anyways, I jumped into my truck and headed off. It was coming down pretty good, but by leaving early I was certain I would squeak through. That was going well until I hit Valpo, and the storm hit me back! There I found a whiteout. This slowed things down unbearably, and dangerously. I was scared and worried. I have driven in the snow for many years. Being an avid skier I have driven through some terrible storms in the Sierras. I also have resided in Indiana now for seven years. This is by far the worst whiteout I have ever been in.

First, I could not see where the road was going. Second the road was pure white and the blowing snow was swirling and it made it impossible to tell what direction the truck was going. I could barely see about 50 feet. It was entirely disorientating. I was driving at 10 to 15 miles per hour and following others who had their flashers on. Trying to maintain a safe distance, but not lose the sight of the flashers, I was about 50 feet behind the car in front of me. That worked well until I noticed the car slowing down and then it stopped suddenly. As I got closer, to about 15 feet away I could see it was in a ditch! I swerved to the right, and just missed going in to the ditch next to him. I wet myself. It was horrible. Worse yet, I could not stop for fear of someone hitting me from behind. Sporadically, a semi would come up from behind and pass me at Mach 12 and nearly blow me off the road. This went on until I got to Plymouth where the weather lifted. I spent four horrifying hours making the trek that usually takes me 40 minutes.

In the Golden State, Caltrans places a reflector pole about every 200 feet on the side of the road to show the plow drivers where the road is. This greatly enhances driving in low visibility conditions when reflectors cannot be affixed to the road itself. There were places on U.S. 30 where nothing was on the sides of the roads for up to a mile. This made the whiteout conditions dangerous. What would have made this easier, not to mention safer, would be for INDOT to place those reflector poles on the side of the roads so we have a reference point of where the road is and where it is going. Let me know what you think.

As I stated earlier, with age comes trepidation. I just don't want to feel the pain of a car wreck. Please be careful out there, no one else is.

Ben Brickman is production manager for Fort Wayne Newspapers. Want to vent? Send it to dipsticks@ news-sentinel.com. If your dipstick gets in the paper he'll give you the credit, or not. It's your call. You can phone in your Dipstick sightings at 461-8285. Ben's also on Facebook, Driving With Dipsticks!