ROADS REPORT

Article December 28, 2000
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Reducing rollover risks

Drivers of big rigs are often the last to know if their tractor-trailer is headed for a rollover. A new warning system, soon to undergo a year-long test on truck-heavy I-75 between Ohio and Florida, could help reduce the 15,000 yearly rollovers on the nation’s roadways by 4,000, according to researchers.

The tests, to be coordinated between the Oak Ridge lab and the Federal Highway Administration, will use sensors and cab computer readouts on three 18-wheelers to help alert the drivers about rollover dangers. U.S. Xpress, Chattanooga, Tenn., will put the high-tech rigs to the test on an 800-mile route from Dayton, Ohio, to Orlando, Fla. Researchers at Oak Ridge will monitor the drivers’ braking records to see whether the warnings are effective. As the center of gravity on the rig shifts, the early alarms will allow truckers to take corrective action. A computer screen in the cab will graphically display the impending turnover. The Tennessee DOT is installing radio transponders along dangerous curves on I-75 that will warn the truckers of trouble.

Topless dancing causes jam

A common cause of traffic jams are gaper delays—not common, however, was the cause of a recent delay in Seattle. A fire-spitting woman danced topless atop a high-voltage electrical tower while traffic on a nearby interstate bridge over the Lake Washington Ship Canal slowed to a near standstill for nearly an hour.

Ara Tripp, 38, told The Seattle Times she planned the stunt for weeks to protest discrimination against women and laws that allow men to take their shirts off but not women. Tripp climbed the 180-ft tower, took off her shirt and began dancing, while occasionally taking swigs from a vodka bottle, spitting out the liquor and setting it on fire. Tripp was a man before undergoing a sex-change operation. She has a wife—whom she married when she was still a man—that strongly disapproved of the plan but was out of town on the morning of the incident.

Seattle City Light cut electricity to 5,000 homes and businesses to protect Tripp from being electrocuted by the 120,000 volts of juice flowing through the lines the tower supports. Tripp was arrested for investigation of criminal trespass and indecent exposure.

Cell phone crack down

An ordinance passed in Brooklyn, Ohio, back in the spring has people cutting down on their cell phone usage in the car. Police recently have started ticketing drivers for talking on hand-held cell phones in the Cleveland suburb under the new law believed to be the first of its kind in the country. Fines for the misdemeanor start at $3 for first-time offenders, but can reach $100 for a second offense or if the driver is involved in an accident. The law prohibits use of a cell phone while driving unless both hands are on the steering wheel. Exceptions are made for emergency calls, using a phone in a parked car or using a speakerphone.

A 1997 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that talking on a phone while driving quadrupled the risk of an accident and was almost as dangerous as being drunk behind the wheel. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, cell phones were a contributing factor in 57 fatal crashes in 1997.

Spending the holidays holed up

A survey conducted recently by the Target Travel Club indicates that Americans have been spooked by the Y2K hype and many will be ringing in the new year in the comfort of their own homes. The survey questioned 1,000 U.S. households and asked if families, when planning their holiday travel schedules, will take precautions such as keeping extra cash, food, water or gasoline on hand, or if they just won’t travel at all because of possible Y2K problems.

According to the survey, approximately 75%of American families just don’t plan to hit the road this New Year’s holiday; 100of those have decided not to travel solely because of the Y2K bug. Approximately 151of the survey respondents said they will travel taking some precautions and 10 are throwing caution to the wind and will set course without taking any preventative measures at all.

Look, in the sky . . . it’s a bird, it’s a plane . . .

The era of the giant airships faded into history before the start of World War II. At it’s peak between 1934 and 1938, ships such as the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg were making regularly scheduled nonstop passenger flights from Europe across the Atlantic to destinations such as Rio de Janeiro and America. It would be 20 years before fixed-wing aircraft were able to duplicate the feat, and only then with refueling stops. Now, almost six decades after the final Zeppelin flights, a new era in giant airships may be beginning.

Initiated in 1994, the CargoLifter project set about the design, development and eventual manufacture and operation of large, semi-rigid airships capable of transporting extremely heavy and oversized payloads weighing upwards of 160 tons. The initial CargoLifter model, the CL160, which will be constructed in Brand, near Berlin, is scheduled for flight tests in 2001 and full operation in 2004. Larger versions capable of carrying over 500 tons of cargo also are being designed. Applications have been suggested in the mining industry, heavy equipment manufacturing industry, aircraft manufacturing industry and bridge building industry.

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