We'd made the four-hour drive dozens of times. Everything had become automatic; we knew the route, speed limits and construction zones. I was riding in the front passenger seat. I'd gotten the flu shot the day before and, as was common back then, was feeling pretty miserable. I reclined the seat, opted not to wear my seat belt for the sake of comfort and drifted off to sleep.
I woke up two hours later to the sound of car horns blaring as we slowed down on Interstate 295 near Jacksonville, Fla. We'd encountered dense traffic and rain -- a deadly combination. I had an overwhelming urge to put my seat belt on and did so. Less than five minutes later, we were doing at least 40 mph when we skidded into the back of a tractor-trailer. As we were skidding, I felt utterly helpless and I remember yelling, "Brace yourself!"
Time seemed to move slowly during the impact and I was acutely aware of each detail. I felt small ripples and vibrations as the hood buckled. Suddenly, we came to a violent stop. The air bags deployed, hitting my face hard enough to momentarily knock me unconscious. White powder from the air bags was everywhere. Most importantly, however, the seat belts worked and kept me from being thrown into the windshield or ejected forward between the car and the trailer.
Physically, I suffered only bruised ribs and a totaled car, while the driver had only minor scratches to her hands. My then 9-month-old daughter -- who was sleeping in the backseat in her properly installed, rearward-facing car seat -- was uninjured. The next day, which happened to be Thanksgiving, we sat at the dining room table and said a prayer of thanks that we were alive and not planning a funeral.
When I tell this story, many say it's a miracle I'm still here. Certainly, if I hadn't buckled my belt when I did, I wouldn't have survived. How many people are fortunate enough to get the chance to put on their seat belts just before they need them?
I'm not going to count on being that lucky twice in this life. Now, when I hit the road, I count on everything I have -- not just my air bags, but also my seat belts -- to protect me should there be a "next" time. Some things are too important to leave to chance.


w/ info box below
Don't Leave Your Safety to Chance

Before hitting the road, hit the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center's website at https://safety.army.mil/ and check out the Travel Risk Planning System, otherwise known as TRiPS. By putting safety into the front end of your planning, you won't have to count on luck.

Page last updated Mon October 31st, 2011 at 00:00