I visited Tulsa recently and discovered something there of note: The curbs of the freeway on and off-ramps are constructed for the sole purpose of shredding tires. Guess how I learned?
The Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa invited me to speak after a showing of the documentary “Red Metal,” - a film I am in and one which features a song by Woody Guthrie called “1913 Massacre.” Having never been to Tulsa, I thought it would be a fun little trip. I flew out and rented a car.
I did some sightseeing the day before the showing and as I headed back to my hotel, I drove down a freeway and then took an exit ramp to get to the surface street. As I maneuvered the curve, I watched a car behind me which was a bit too close and then I saw a shredded tire in the middle of the lane in front of me.
There was a fraction of a second to decide: Which way to go around the shredded tire? I didn’t want to run it over. With my luck, it would hit something underneath the car and leave me with a problem when I returned the car on Monday morning. So, I went right. I miscalculated by a fraction and put my front right tire on the shoulder of the road.
Anywhere else on the paved Earth - for the most part - this would have been no problem. In Michigan, you’d still be on a paved shoulder most likely. But in Tulsa? The tire goes over a jagged edge of concrete designed to shred tires. When the tire went off the edge, I had a fraction of a second to react. Do I go all the way off the road, putting all four tires off the edge of the pavement? Or do I turn the wheel and try to bring the one tire back onto the pavement?
Keep in mind that I had not yet noticed how the pavement was designed so carefully to do nothing but mulch tires. If I went off the pavement entirely I would have needed to slow down so as to not hit some of the obstacles there, and risked being rear-ended by the person behind me. And, as you can see in the picture above, the shoulder was covered in gravel and would not have lent itself to a quick stop.
I turned the wheel to the left, hoping to get the tire back on the pavement. And in that split-second I felt and heard the tire being gnawed to smithereens.
I steered all the way off the road and stopped the car, hoping to mitigate my damages. I got out and looked at the flattened tire. The other three were fine but the front right was off the rim and clearly flat.
The rental car company summoned a wrecker. I asked the driver about the sharp edge of the pavement. Why on Earth was it like that? “Keeps me in business,” he laughed. I told him this had to happen all the time, maybe even once a week at this spot. “Try once a day,” he corrected me.
The following day I found out that there are tire repair places open on Sunday, even in a town where half the radio stations play Christian rock 24 hours a day. And when I saw the sidewall in the harsh light of day I was still shocked by how much damage had happened in such a short time. The counter guy wasn’t. And neither was the guy who mounted the new tire for me. “We see it all the time,” one of them said.
This was only the second time in my life a flat has been caused on one of my cars by something other than a nail or a screw and the first time, I wasn’t even driving. I’ve been driving since 1977. So, Oklahomans: What gives? What purpose do these killer-curbs serve other than to keep your tow truck drivers and tire sellers in business?
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 24 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.
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