Q In light of the tragedy last week involving the three family members killed while dealing with a flat tire on Interstate 280, can you take a stab at some common-sense ideas about the best way to deal with a flat tire? I am tempted to ask my mechanic how much damage would happen to my vehicle if I continued to drive slowly toward a safe spot off the freeway.
It's a timely topic and could save additional tragedy and prevent brokenhearted families.
A Here is what safety folks recommend if you get a flat tire on a highway.
"Driving on a flat can ruin the tire, but safety first! Driving slowly to a safe spot is the right thing to do, though it may cost you a tire. The fact is, you may well need to replace a tire that goes flat while driving (flat tires are scrapped nearly half the time).
"Tires are not cheap, but the potential tragedy that can result from trying to save a few bucks is far worse."
Q How can people contact the CHP or the Freeway Service Patrol to gain assistance for their disabled vehicle? A lot of us know to call 511, but the signage I see for 511 appears to only be for commuter and transit information. This poor family was stranded in the center divide, adjacent to the fast lane, where people drive incredibly fast. It's not clear if they knew to call 511.
A Calling 511 would have been appropriate. At the main menu, you need only say "Freeway Aid" and the voice-recognition system will transfer nonemergency calls to a privately operated call center, which will then dispatch a tow truck, or forward information as needed to the California Highway Patrol or Caltrans.
FSP tow trucks -- which provide services free of charge -- will be dispatched to respond to 511 calls during peak periods on the Bay Area's busiest routes. Towing companies that operate under contract with Caltrans and the CHP will be dispatched at other times, and will charge motorists for their services. If the caller's location is on a toll bridge or in a tunnel, the information will be sent immediately to Caltrans or the CHP.
Of course, if it's an emergency, dial 911.
Q I'm not trying to overly criticize the CHP. However, I sincerely hope it steps up speed enforcement on Highway 280 following Friday's terrible tragedy at Edgewood Road, where three people were killed when their disabled car was hit by a speeding car. I drive 280 regularly and I have dubbed 280 "The Bay Area Autobahn." It's no mystery that drivers there proceed at a significantly higher rate of speed than 65 mph. CHP presence is usually seen only at the 280/92 interchange and sometimes down near Sand Hill Road, making it a bit predictable for the scofflaws who travel at amazingly high speeds to slow down to avoid a citation.
A We all know that 280 ranks as one of the freeways where 80-plus mph seems the norm, and don't be surprised if you see more patrols. But the accident rate on 280 is lower than on most freeways since traffic is usually somewhat lighter. The CHP tends to focus on 101, where congestion is worse and the crash rate higher.
Q How far can one drive on those thin spare tires? I've heard not far.
A You heard right. The typical "mini spare" carries a warning that it is not to be used more than 50 miles in a single trip and at speeds of around 50 mph. Temporary spare tires are only meant to be used as a short-term fix.