It is clear that one life was lost and that hundreds of people in the Nevada city of Fallon lost access to utilities yesterday, but the details of yesterday’s three-car crash are murky despite a day of reporting by various outlets. While the essential facts seem to be established clearly, the conflicting reports about the details of this deadly car accident outside of Reno indicates a challenge the news media faces in providing timely reporting that nonetheless correctly advises residents of the risks of vehicle crashes.
What We Know . . . And More
There seems to be no doubt or dispute that three vehicles were involved in the crash. It seems that a passenger vehicle – perhaps a van,  perhaps a small hatchback based on some crash scene photos  – pulled out ahead of a larger vehicle. No reporting that we have seen indicates whether the passenger vehicle was at fault – possibly pulling out into traffic with inadequate clearance to do so, or failing to achieve freeway speed quickly enough. The crash occurred along Highway 50 just outside of Fallon, a community of about 8,500 people approximately 60 miles east of Reno.  Specifically, the crash occurred at the so-called Sheckler Cutoff, where traffic from Sheckler Road can merge onto eastbound Highway 50. Images of the area make clear that eastbound traffic must come up to freeway speed very quickly to navigate the short merge from Sheckler Road. 
The larger vehicle seems to have been a tractor trailer pulling an empty propane tanker. That the trailer was a propane tanker is relevant because early reports indicated that the trailer exploded and was bathed in flames, but subsequent reporting has suggested that the tanker was in fact empty and that the resulting inferno was caused not by an ignition of the trailer’s flammable cargo – in a real-life version of the classic manner of action movies – but rather that the large vehicle collided with a gas main. Not only did the vehicle hit a gas main, rupturing it and releasing flammable natural gas, but it also hit a power pole, potentially providing the source of ignition in the form of disconnected, live wires carrying high-voltage electricity.
Why do we state that the larger vehicle “seems to have been” a tractor trailer? Well, at least one media outlet reported that the crash involved a cement truck. “Cement truck,” as in the stoutly built trucks that are mounted with a revolving barrel of slushy, wet cement. But the fact that only one media outlet has reported the story thus suggests that a game of “Operator” was to blame. The larger vehicle was apparently a tractor trailer, also known as an eighteen-wheeler or a semi-truck. Note that “semi-truck” and “cement truck” sound quite a lot alike, and both large, heavy vehicles would have been capable of causing the devastation that has been reported.
Little has been reported about the third vehicle, which the propane truck apparently struck after hitting the merging passenger vehicle and before crashing into the power pole and rupturing the gas main. One would intuit that the third vehicle would have been struck with great force – after all, the semi-truck was still going fast enough after hitting the third vehicle that it knocked out power and broke a gas line – it appears that the driver and passengers (if any) of the third vehicle escaped with minor injuries.
It seems clear that the semi-truck driver perished at the scene, possibly killed by the gas-line explosion if not by the initial impacts of striking two vehicles and crashing into a power pole. But while some outlets report that the driver of the passenger vehicle suffered only a broken arm,  others media outlets have reported the driver’s injuries as life-threatening  and as requiring transportation by helicopter ambulance. 
Defensive Driving is Key
With the fuzzy reporting about this car accident in the greater Reno area, it is difficult to say who was at-fault and what they could have done differently to prevent the crash. But it is clear even now that if the drivers had been exercising a greater level of defensive driving this tragedy may not have occurred. The driver of the passenger vehicle may have misjudged the speed of her vehicle relative to that of freeway traffic on Highway 50. She may also have assumed that she needed to achieve normal highway speed when, in fact, the semi-truck that crashed into her was driving in excess of the speed limit. When it comes to car accidents, you do not win any points for blindly assuming that your law-abiding driving will be respected by others. Driving defensively means assuming that other drivers are not doing their utmost to follow the law and avoid a crash.
On the other hand, you have much more control over what you do than what others do behind the wheel. Here is a helpful list of some tactics you can adopt to be a safer driver for all those around you:
- Avoid making a left turn across oncoming traffic – opt for three rights or a right and a U-turn instead
- When merging into high-speed traffic (as in the Fallon accident discussed above), use the on-ramp to get up to speed; the slow way is the bad way
- Be wary of right-turn-only lanes, which may end abruptly
- Use the “Dutch Reach” when exiting your vehicle alongside a road – reach for the door handle with your far hand rather than the one nearest the handle
- Maintain a current vision prescription, and be conscious of the effects of medications 
If your defensive driving techniques are not enough to stave off a car accident injury, contact an experienced personal injury attorney for legal advice.
Image Credit: Famartin [CC BY-SA 4.0]