Prairie Tayles: Dead Right And Rumble Strips

Aug 18, 2017

There was a time that I found rumble strips - you know, those zig-zaggy indentions down the middle and sides of highways - to be nothing but obnoxious. They make terrible sounding vibrations when crossed, regardless of whether drivers intend to pass over them or not. They remind me of a dentist using the big drill to grind out a chunk of old filling. My feelings about those asphalt irritations changed the day those rough-carved asphalt concaves saved not only my life but my mom’s. Since then, I’ve new respect for that once disturbing noise.

Prior to my attitude changing experience, my familiarity with those indentions bisecting highways was how they sounded when I passed another vehicle or when I cruised too close to the edge of the highway. Once I hit them, I knew it. Not only did the sound remind me of getting my teeth fixed, the non-stop shuddering rattled and shook everything loose in my vehicle.  If I didn’t hear something clattering before, I did after hitting a few rumble strips.

Because I’d never fallen asleep driving, I hadn’t needed them to awaken me to get back in my own lane. I didn’t recognize their value until the day that thunkety-thunk-thunk-thunk told me I was about to get run over by a big red truck on Highway 36.

Mom and I had driven west from Phillipsburg, heading toward the Prairie View turnoff to Logan. Not far out of town, I noted a semi hauling a big trailer speeding up in my rear view mirror. No problem, I thought. We had time for it to pass long before we reached our exit. 

Even though I slowed enough  the driver could easily swing around  me in the open lane, he didn’t.  Every time I checked my mirror, I saw more of his grill creeping up on the back of my little Toyota. As we got closer and closer to our left turn, I wondered how he’d slow enough to avoid running over us. So he knew my intentions, I flicked on my signal far in advance.

Initially, it appeared the driver backed off. I breathed a sigh of relief and positioned my car to turn south from the west-bound lane. Despite feeling safer, I began checking every mirror. Imagine my surprise when I heard that ominous, familiar vibrato. I knew I hadn’t crossed the center line, and there was nothing in the rearview mirror. Quickly, I looked over my left shoulder, where I saw the passenger door of my nemesis. That enormous beast had zipped round me on the left in a turn lane. Yikes!

Thank goodness I didn’t turn. Once the semi sped ahead, I breathed deeply and completed my maneuver. Then I thanked the Lord I’d heard that warning sound I once deplored. Mom and I sighed with relief that we hadn’t become statistics.

Now days, I savor that growl whining out from beneath my wheels as I pull out to pass. I also discovered last winter it comes in handy when I drive through deep snow. Even if the road isn’t cleared, that vibration tells me I’ve driven too far toward the ditch.

When I took my husband up to show him where I nearly died that October day, he noted the double yellow line that means no passing. Then he calmly informed me that I was right about being indignant, but if I hadn’t heard that warning and proceeded to turn , I’d have been dead right. Thank goodness for rumble strips.