We all think, “That’ll never happen to me.”
We’ve all read the statistics and heard the slogan, “Distracted driving is deadly driving” on the American Forces Network.
But be honest: Are you always as attentive as you should be?
I’ll admit it here now that I’m not.
Yes, I’ve taken my eyes off the road to change the radio station, check my hair in the mirror or rummage around my purse for my lip balm. And one of those very same everyday actions in the wrong moment changed my perspective on how I operate my vehicle.
On this particular morning, it all started with the simple act of locating my ID card. Twenty seconds later, my car was on an entirely different road after flipping twice over a barrier.
The fact that I can type these words now is a miracle that is not lost on me. My car is totaled – the caved-in roof was only part of the damage — yet I was able to walk away.
On the morning of my crash, I had plenty of time to get to work. I wasn’t speeding, and my mind wasn’t on anything other than the drive. As I got closer to the gate, I grabbed my wallet out of my pocket to get my ID. In the moment it took me to look down to make sure I had the right card, I veered off the road.
My tires screeched as I slammed on the brakes trying to correct my direction. I was traveling more than 40 mph when I narrowly missed oncoming traffic, took out a deer-crossing sign and two road markers before falling into the ditch. I don’t remember the first turn, but I knew I was upside down the second time when I could feel my weight being fully supported by my seat belt. I could also hear the shattering of my windows and metal on concrete just before I finally came to a stop.
I was very fortunate to walk away without a scratch, bump or bruise. I attribute most of this to German engineering, my seat belt and a lot of luck. But I’m very aware that those three factors didn’t cancel out the fact that what I did was wrong and could have killed me or someone else.
Now a week later, I am still trying to wrap my head around those few seconds before my crash. Beyond the shattered glass and the sirens of the police and ambulatory services, I knew that I had to change the way I measure risks because I can’t count on being this lucky a second time.
I owed it to myself after the crash to write this story – not because I am a public affairs Airman merely meeting a weekly quota or a recent crash survivor – but as a simple word of advice to my fellow Airmen.
This isn’t a preachy “Don’t do this” message–just a hope that no one reading this ever has to go through what I went through.
So, to help arm as many people as I can with a few tips so they don’t repeat my mistake, I collected these suggestions to make your car ride a safer experience.
Have your ID card or relevant papers out of your pocket and easily accessible before you start your vehicle. I’ve seen people struggle to fish out items from their back pocket while still operating a vehicle at top speeds. Some may even have to unbuckle their seat belt to get something, whereas mine saved my life.
Have a passenger mess with the radio or get the IDs from other passengers in the car. In my car, the guy riding shotgun is the navigator and copilot who deals with the GPS and changes the songs–so long as they agree to the stations I want to listen to.
I may not have been on the phone, but I think of how I took my eyes off the road for only one second and caused all this damage; accepting a phone call or reading a text could be just as dangerous.
If you forgot to do all of these things, at least wait until you are stopped before performing anything distracting. If you do get an important phone call or have to find something, just pull over. Whatever it is, it is not worth your life.
These tips seem very basic, but still I took a risk in skipping one or two, and part of my morning routine included a visit to a hospital. Perhaps you’re like me and hadn’t fully thought about these potential risks, but I hope none of you repeat my mistake.
PHOTO: The wreckage of an Airman’s vehicle rests on the access road near the Spangdahlem Main Gate in Germany after a distracted driving accident Feb. 19, 2014. Leadership of the 52nd Fighter Wing is working to eliminate the large number of distracted driving incidents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexis Siekert)