Automotive Darwin Awards 2008

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber

There are all sorts of end of the year automotive lists. The ten best this and the ten worst that. My favorite list is not a car gong per se. The Darwin Awards are given to those who improve the gene pool by removing themselves from it. As you might imagine, automobiles figure prominently in this roll call of death by stupidity. To wit: Ivece Plattner of Italy. Plattner was driving a Porsche Cayenne (which is already a bit of a red flag), stuck in traffic on a railroad crossing, waiting for the light to turn green. When the crossing barriers came down, they trapped the Cayenne.

Onlookers said he didn’t realize he was stuck until the train was approaching. In desperation he opened the door and jumped out of the car. Instead of getting out of Dodge, Plattner started running up the tracks, in the train’s path, waving his arms and screaming. The engineer hit the brakes, but inertia and momentum working the way they do, the train hit the Porschephile and threw him about 100 ft. Plattner was survived by his Porsche Cayenne, which he loved more than life itself.

In a story from the Talmud (tractate Shabbat 31a), a potential convert approached the great rabbi Hillel and asked him to sum up the Torah “on one foot.” Hillel replied “what’s distasteful to you don’t do to your neighbor, that’s the entire Torah, the rest is commentary, go and learn.” Too bad a couple of ranch hands on a lonely country road hadn’t learned that lesson…

The telephone company had been burying lines. To allow traffic to pass, they dug up half the road at a time and put up warning barriers with flashing lights to direct traffic to the safe side. After they laid the cable half way, they’d fill in that side and then do the same on the other side. Pranksters had moved the flashing lights to the good side of the road.

Speeding late at night and way over the legal blood alcohol limit, the ranch hands drove straight into the hole and died. Because of the moved lights the Sheriff’s accident analysis turned into a criminal matter. Crime scene analysis of tire tracks and footprints on the dirt road revealed that the pranksters were the ranch hands themselves, on their way to the bar.

I don’t think that rabbi Hillel would have put it this way, but payback’s a bitch. The next automotive Darwin award also involves a pickup truck, this time pressed into service as a winch.

It seems that someone had cut down a fairly large tree at the base of an embankment. For some reason, instead of just tying a cable to the tree and his hitch and pulling the tree up the slope he decided to use his rear axle as a winch. He jacked up the truck and replaced one tire with a bare rim he had in the bed hoping to wind the cable on the rim as it spun. He went over to the cab and had one foot on the gas and another on the ground, with the door open, so he could observe his handy work. He put it into gear, hit the gas and the truck lurched back, swinging the door on him and trapping him as the truck went down the embankment.

[From an automotive standpoint, this Darwin may be the most interesting. The Darwin Awards are based on submissions and votes at their web site and there’s a forum where people can discuss the different stories. This one generated a long and interesting thread on differentials, friction and torque.]

The final automotive Darwin Award for 2008 involves a dangerous combination: young males with a SUV, a shopping cart and a passionate desire to do something they saw on an internet video.

Cameron Bieberle, an 18-year-old Winter Park, Florida man decided to take a ride in a shopping cart, hanging on to his friend’s SUV as it drove through their apartment complex parking lot. While speed bumps are but a nuisance to a SUV, shopping cart suspensions have a bit less wheel travel. Bieberle was bounced from the cart and landed on the pavement headfirst. DOA.

With car sales so deep in the toilet that Toyota and Honda are both losing money, while the domestics live hand-to-mouth on government subsidy, it’s nice to know that there are still worse ways to mess up with cars than running a car company. As they used to say on Hill Street Blues, be careful out there. Or, the gene pool you save may be your own.

Ronnie Schreiber
Ronnie Schreiber

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.

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  • Anonymous Anonymous on Jan 06, 2009

    Carlos.negros: It's hard for me to argue over teh name as I don't believe in "natural selection" (call me a heretic). But, I believe the only story where the winners were identified as drunk were the criminally stupid individuals who moved the barriers away from the trenching in the road. In the other events listed, the victims did not really deserve what they got, but in the case of the ranch hands, I think they did deserve what they got. They thought it would be funny to create a deadly situation and then paid for it with their own lives. Seems fair to me.

  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Jan 27, 2009
    Andy D: Changing a flat tire on the edge of a busy roadside. I have driven 20 miles on a flat and while it is possible just be sure that you have no other alternatives. It ruined the tire, the rim and soon after the wheel bearings failed. The situation was a hot summer day in southern Italy during the siesta hours (a great idea for coping with the summer heat). Tire went flat. Wasn't much of a tire anymore anyhow with the cords showing through but I was young, dumb and making the most of everything. I stopped to change it but the spare was flat too - though new in appearance it did not contain air. An option that year? Drove home about 20 miles slowly and survived to tell about it. Tire remains were smoking!
  • Charles The UAW makes me the opposite of patriotic
  • El scotto Wranglers are like good work boots, you can't make them any better. Rugged four wheel drive vehicles which ironically make great urban vehicles. Wagoneers were like handbags desired by affluent women. They've gone out of vogue. I can a Belgian company selling Jeep and Ram Trucks to a Chinese company.
  • El scotto So now would be a good time to buy an EV as a commuter car?
  • ToolGuy $1 billion / 333.3 million = $3 per U.S. person ¶ And what do I get for my 3 bucks -- cleaner air and lower fuel prices? I might be ok with this 🙂🙂
  • VoGhost Matt, I'm curious why you write that inventory levels are low at 74 days. Typically, 60 days is the benchmark for normal inventory.
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