It was like swimming up from a great depth. At first mostly darkness, then the welcoming rays of sun filtering down through gently waving kelp and my silvery bubbles ballooning and chasing one another to the surface.
I always enjoyed this part of a dive but suddenly I became aware that this time something was wrong. This was no ordinary ascent. The clear sea-green water was turning to a murky, menacing red. A sense of unreality overtook me and I couldn’t remember how I got here.
I kicked harder but it didn’t matter, it wasn’t getting me any closer to the surface and I was having trouble breathing, a lot of trouble. And, what was that screaming I kept hearing? I tried to convince myself this was not real. This is just a nightmare, I thought. But panic was setting in and I was starting to lose it.
Then the pain hit. It started in my head, spread to my gut, then shot down both legs. I searched frantically for my buddy. Where was Tony? Someone help me! I was about to rip my mask away and inhale for the last time to stop the awful pain when, through closed eyelids I sensed pulsing light.
Then I heard a voice. “Hang on son, we’ll have you out of there in a minute.”
I opened my eyes and, through a tangled crimson web, made out flashing multicolored lights and a vague figure leaning through what looked like a shattered window. He was working very hard at prying something loose, but I couldn’t see what.
My head cleared a little and then it came to me. I was inside my car and I’d been in a wreck.
“Now I remember,” I mumbled through broken teeth and swollen lips, “that car came out of nowhere!”
The figure at the window must have heard me because he said something reassuring like, “It wasn’t your fault, son, we have witnesses.”
At that moment, I didn’t care. I was pinned on my back on the floor of the passenger side, something I couldn’t see jammed between my ribs. My head and legs were twisted at impossible angles and there was blood all over the place. I struggled to move but nothing seemed to work.
Before losing consciousness again I remember thinking, “Gotta call my date to tell her I’m gonna be late!”
How dumb was that? How about 10 weeks late? That would be how long it would take me to get out of the hospital – once they got me out of the car! What I didn’t know until later was that they were in no hurry to get the other driver out . . . he was dead.
This is the beginning of a tale, a story about driver error, I tell my classes about an actual experience I had as a college kid. I tell this story to bring home to my new drivers just how suddenly things can turn bad and to convince them that in this game there are no instant replays. Also these are the opening paragraphs of a book I hope to publish one day, but that’s a subject for another time.
The next day, a story in the newspaper called my experience an “accident.” This was no accident. It happened because someone did something they should not have done or did not do something they should have done. It’s called driver error and it’s the No. 1 cause of what we prefer to call “crashes” or “collisions.”
You drive. If you were not a driver you wouldn’t be on this site and reading this story. But a lot of the driving you and I do is different from everyday driving. We drive or tow larger and heavier vehicles than most. If we make a bad driving decision or make even a small error, like the one made in this example, the consequences can be manifold.
Such factors as speed, braking distance, following distance and turning radius take on a far greater meaning for us.
Here’s the rest of the story:
It was just after 7 p.m. one summer evening in Los Angeles. I had spent the entire day washing, waxing and polishing my car. Now I was headed for the apartment I shared with three fellow students where I would shave, shower and suit up for a heavy date that night.
As I approached the intersection at Eighth and Vermont, at the speed limit and with the green light, I noticed a car lined up facing me, waiting to turn left after I passed through. I never made it through that intersection. The car waiting to turn left was hit from behind and suddenly lurched into my path. We collided nearly head-on at a speed of about 35 miles per hour.
There’s a bizarre twist to this story. Several months later, when the matter came to trial, it turns out the creep who caused this whole thing had a bit of a problem. He was:
- Driving a stolen car — the police theorized that he was looking behind him for pursuers when the crash occurred
- Driving drunk — he blew twice the legal limit
- In the United States illegally – which is probably what was on his mind when, although injured himself, he ran! A cab driver who saw the whole thing chased him down and dragged him back for the police to arrest, an act of bravery we would not likely see today.
- But, let’s see if you’ve been paying attention. We know who caused the collision but were it not for one simple error made by one of the drivers, I would not have been involved in this collision at all and the life of the driver who made that error might have been spared. What was that simple mistake and which driver made it?
Can you name the driver error that causes most collisions? Is it:
- Distracted driving
- Excessive speed
Make a comment. Let me know what you think.
An average driver can expect to have three crashes in a typical driving career. I’ve had my three and, as was the case with this one, none were my fault. In the first two, I was critically injured. In the third crash, I was killed. Well, not really but I like to throw that line out to my classes — followed by a long pause — just to see if anyone is listening.
This is not so much about how to drive. It’s more about staying alive!