Monday, October 06, 2008

Manual Transmissions


A train collision in Butler County kills a mother and her young daughter. The accident happened around 7:40 Saturday night when the train hit a car near SW 60th and Purity Springs Road.

Sheriff Craig Murphy says four members of the Bilson family had gone out to buy snacks to watch a football game. On the trip home, the newly purchased Ford Probe stalled on the tracks. He says the tracks cross the family's driveway.

Murphy says the 15-year-old driver got out and tried to push the car out of the way but couldn't. Murphy says the teen grabbed his seven-year-old sister out of the car as the train approached.

He went back to get his mother and three-year-old sister but it was too late. Thirty-six year-old Molissa Bilson died at the scene. The daughter, three-year-old Molly, was airlifted to a Wichita hospital where she later died.

Sheriff Murphy says the family would have likely had enough time to cross the tracks before the train hit if the car hadn't stalled. He says the conductor of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train tried to stop in time but couldn't. He estimates the train was about a mile-long.

Murphy says the scene was especially hard for crews to work because many of them know the family.

Man, I feel for this kid. He's going to relive this for the rest of his life. It is truly a shame, and I grieve for him and his family. His mother was having problems with the belt holding the three year old's car seat.

One thing this article did not mention was the fact that the Probe had a manual transmission, bought for the fifteen year old. They were on a family outing so he could become more familiar with operating the apparently unfamiliar transmission. That is what I heard on the news early this morning.

I have a real problem with this. I've felt for years that driver's education courses are useless when manual trannys come into play. It's a "let them out and learn on their own" scenario. Turn 'em loose on the motoring public - it's the finest in on the job training. What the hell, if you don't want to drive one, you don't have to and if you are lucky, you never will.

But you are not a skilled motor vehicle operator if you cannot operate a manual transmission. What if someone you love has a major medical problem and it falls upon you, the auto tranny fan, to get them to the emergency room to save their life? Ain't gonna happen.

This poor kid stalled his car on the tracks with apparently enough time to get out and try to push it off. Had he been more familiar with operating his car, stalling it more than likely wouldn't have happened. Did he have it in neutral when he tried pushing it? We don't know. Did he think to shove it in low gear and just let the starter take it off the tracks? We don't know.

Someone comfortable with a manual transmission would think of these things, and try them instead of panicking. Perhaps the car's battery completely crapped out just as it was crossing the track, and that is what killed the motor. I really don't want to be looking over this kid's shoulder here - I think considering the training he no doubt had, he did what would be expected.

That is my problem here. It's highly likely that he didn't have the background to react to the situation. And why not?

Because our driver training and licensing system is set up for the lowest common denominator. This kid could jump in a dually manual diesel and pull a camper, or a Ryder truck, or jump in a motor home with the training he received. His parents would get an insurance discount, no doubt, since he passed driver's ed successfully. And why couldn't he drive any of these other vehicles? Retirees who've never driven anything bigger than a Buick take to the roads every day in their motor homes and navigate across the country, often sticking their ride under low overhangs, or getting high centered trying to turn into a short driveway, or many other little things that merely operating a car does not prepare you for.

At least getting a motorcycle endorsement on your license requires some training.


Anonymous said...

Did he think to shove it in low gear and just let the starter take it off the tracks?

Unfortunately, that trick doesn't work in "modern" vehicles because there is a "safety" switch that doesn't allow the starter to engage unless the clutch is disengaged.

nora leona said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nora leona said...

I am forever grateful that I learned how to drive on the farm. I had years of good practice before I even hit the road. I joke that I drive better in reverse than forward from all of the years of backing wagons around the bin.
I think the best thing it did for me was give me a healthy sense of what vehicles can and cannot do. They cannot stop on a dime, no matter what video games and action movies show and they need a wide berth on the highway.
I'm one of those manual transmission folks. I swear it keeps me more focused on the task at hand - driving.