Why I Hate 9-1-1, Cell Phones, and Good Witnesses (Long)
Back in the '90's, when I first started over-the-road trucking, cell phones had yet to achieve universal popularity. We carried pagers or had cabs equipped with Qualcomm to allow dispatch to contact us. Channel 19 on the CB radio was usually ablaze with drivers giving road info, checking on each other, or just shooting the bull. Whenever one of us found ourselves on the side of the road with the four-ways on, the radio quickly lit up with the then-standard "Driver, you OK over there?". If one needed a tool, some help or a ride to the next phone or truck stop, it was there. If anything occurred anywhere on the route, it was quickly relayed up and down the road miles each way. Bear reports were regarded as not only courteous, but mandatory. If a mishap happened, guys were pulling over to render aid until official responders arrived. We talked to each other, we checked on each other, and we enjoyed each other's on-mic and truckstop company.
Somewhere around 2001, big changes became noticeable. The pagers had been replaced by mandatory cell phones. Laptops and other forms of in-cab entertainment became the vogue. We no longer called home from the truck stop at the end of the drive, but rather from the comfort of our cab, whenever. The counter at the truck stop got more and more quiet as the guys found their entertainment on-line in-cab. The CB radio became more quiet, and eventually, virtually silent as we isolated ourselves further. Even bear reports vanished from the airwaves. People quit pulling over to assist at break-down and accident scenes. Instead, they lit up the 9-1-1 boards and stayed in their vehicles whenever bad things happened.
That shift didn't just happen in the trucking industry. It happened everywhere. My contempt and destestation for the substitution of 9-1-1 and good witnessing for helping one another out and doing the right thing was finalized on March 10, 2010, when Marion County 9-1-1 received a call from a passing motorist about a bicyclist lying in a ditch about two miles from my home. Instead of stopping on that rural, isolated road, and rendering help, they followed the advice often insisted upon on this forum. I'm sure the thought of bad guys, law suits affected their decision to do nothing. The firefighters who arrived on the scene were the ones who pulled my drowned friend's face out of the water-filled ditch. The good witness might very well have been able to save him, if only they had stopped.
I had my own first-hand experience with the general reluctance to stop and help last September. On a stormy day near Findlay, Ohio, one of my trailer brakes locked up on a slick exit ramp and I jack-knifed my tractor-trailer. It partially blocked the ramp, but traffic could still get around me to the gravel on the right. My left steer was ripped off, causing my driver's side fuel tank to be damaged. Fortunately, the roadway itself sealed the damage and very little fuel was leaked, although I could not tell that at the time. As far as I knew, I was leaking fuel and at risk of fire. My cab frame was sprung, which wedged both my doors shut. As I frantically struggled to get my door open so I could get out, cars continued to go around me on the right. No one stopped, but each one of them I saw had their cell phone stuck up to their ear as they drove by, rubbernecking. I was finally able to kick the door open and exit the vehicle, at which point a couple windows came down to ask "Are you all right" as they continued on. The police later told me that the volume of calls to report my wreck locked up the entire system for a short time. Again, not one non-emergency responder so much as stopped, even momentarily during the minutes before the paid help arrived.
These experiences have imprinted a few concepts with me: when it happens, you are on your own; those who don't have to help you almost always won't help you; police and rescue are a lifetime away; all you have is your training, your wits, and what you bought with you.