Bugs and Spiders That Have Wreaked Havoc on Transportation

“Don’t bug me when I’m driving!”

You’ve said it to kids, chatty friends, and your ringing phone, but you might want to also tell actual bugs and, in some cases, spiders.

Photo of two people riding a bike through a swarm of mayflies in Hungary.
A cyclist endures a swarm of mayflies along River Danube in Tahitotfalu, Hungary, on August 24. Photograph by Attila Volgyi, Xinhua/Corbis

Last week CNN Money reported that Toyota recalled more than 800,000 cars due to a problem that sounds like a Rube Goldberg device: Spider webs can block a tube coming from the air conditioner, thereby causing water to fall on an airbag control module, possibly triggering a short-circuit that could make the airbag warning light come on and the driver’s side airbag to deploy. A press release about the recall on Toyota’s website also says that in some cases the airbags and power steering might become disabled.

Dang! It would have been so poetic if it happened in a Fiat Spider.

This isn’t the first time an itsy-bitsy arachnid has messed with a big car company. If you’re not an arachnophobe, scroll down in the CNN story to a video about how the yellow sac spider (which isn’t really all that itsy bitsy) building nests in a gas-tank ventilation line caused Mazda to recall more than 50,000 cars in 2011. Blockage of the ventilation line could lead to a cracked gas tank and even a fire.

Millipedes and Mayflies, Oh My

Spiders aren’t the only creepy crawlies that accidentally cause accidents. A leggier creature may have caused a train collision in Western Australia in September. Reuters reported that hundreds of black Portuguese millipedes were found squished on the train tracks “in a slippery mess” after a passenger train pulling into a station collided with a stationary train, leaving six passengers with stiff necks. (Also see “World’s Leggiest Animal Found Near Silicon Valley.”)

Millipedes had been the cause of train delays and cancellations in the past and were being considered as a possible factor in the crash (though, as Time noted, it was not the official cause).

Another case of insects traveling en masse—and getting squished en mess—happened in July 2012 when, as ABC News reports, mayflies hatched by the millions and hit the town of Hastings, Minnesota, and a lot of things in it.

A carpet of mayflies on the road led to a head-on collision on the Hastings Bridge, and the local news video report showed dead bugs stuck to the car’s airbags. The bug blizzard left a film of bugs reported to be several inches thick.

One Is All It Takes

It doesn’t take a swarm: One insect can cause an accident if it distracts the driver. That’s what happened in North Dakota in 2009 when an unidentified “large insect” flew into the window of the cab of a truck and landed on the driver’s back, according to a U.S. Air Force report quoted in an AP news article.

When the driver tried to get rid of the bug, the truck drifted and overturned on a gravel road. The truck was carrying “rocket engine parts for intercontinental ballistic missiles but no nuclear material” and two tanks of liquid rocket fuel, which the military said was not in danger of exploding or leaking. The military also said that the public was never in danger.

It sounds scary anyway—all accidents do. So should you drive with your windows up or wear a hazmat suit behind the wheel to avoid insect-related problems?

Probably not necessary. Forbes reported this year that “an analysis of crash reports conducted by Erie Insurance, based on police report data for auto accidents from 2010 and 2011 compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),” found that the biggest culprit when it comes to distracted driving is being “lost in thought.”

Distractions from a “moving object in vehicle, such as an insect or unrestrained pet,” came in at a mere one percent.

So while you’re driving, it could be that worrying about being distracted by an insect might actually be worse than being distracted by an insect.

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Meet the Author
Liz Langley is the award-winning author of Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad and has written for many publications including Salon, Details and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @LizLangley and at www.lizlangley.com