Out driving? Pay attention!
It was a nice day in March, 2005.
I remember, because that was the last time I saw my beautiful red 1996 Ford Ranger pickup truck.
We were bailing up Highway 218 south of Austin, heading to Winona for a fun day with friends.
I had my head in the clouds at 60 miles an hour. Couldn’t stop thinking about a fatal accident that had happened the day before near my home in Mason City, Iowa.
Looked up from my reverie just in time to see the driver of another pickup truck slowing down to turn left into the driveway of her farm home.
I had about one second to react.
Yanked my steering wheel left, even as the woman was turning.
My truck tore the running board off the side of her truck as I crashed into a deep ditch.
I was dazed for a second or two. Looked down to see an airbag in my lap. Looked up to see my shattered passenger-side window. And then the woman stuck her head in the windowand called me a nasty name.
She had a baby carrier in the back of her truck. Thankfully it was empty. But, as she said, her grandbaby could have been there with us in this accident.
I was a basket case. The woman’s husband tried to calm me down. I thought he was amazingly cool for the situation.
A state trooper said I reacted well in the one second I had before the accident. If I hadn’t, he said, things may have ended up much worse.
As it was, I had to go to court, where I told the judge my story. I told the truth: that the accident was completely my fault, that I had not been paying attention to the road, that I was very sorry.
And I paid a $100 fine.
So things worked out. I was very lucky.
I think about that accident from time to time, how it could have been so much worse.
What if the woman hadn’t been there, but someone had been walking across the road while I had my head in the clouds? What if the woman in the truck had been waiting for oncoming traffic to pass?
What if I had reacted differently, steered the other way, or just slammed on the brakes?
Or what if I had never even looked up in time to see the poor woman trying to enter her driveway?
Thank God things happened the way they did. But it’s a lesson to remember: ALWAYS pay attention to the road.
Out of the hundreds of students on hand for last week’s mock car crash at Kasson-Mantorville High School, I asked two or three for their thoughts on the event.
One of them was sophomore Dacia Clark, 15, who was driving between Byron and Rochester a few weeks ago when she hit a patch of ice and rolled her car three times.
Dacia and her passenger were unharmed. But the accident happened, she said, because she was not paying attention to the road.
“I think this is very important for a lot of us, because a lot of kids, especially on Prom night, like to drink and text and drive,” she said. “I have been in a car accident myself, from distraction, and I was the one driving. It’s very scary to be in a car crash, especially when you’re looking away for just five seconds.”
It can happen in a flash. One second you’re sailing at high speed down the highway and Life is great. The next you could look up to see a vehicle turning in front of you, or someone crossing the road to get his or her mail. Or you might look up too late to see the big patch of black ice that could send you and your passengers and innocent bystanders spinning into oblivion.
It’s easy to think you’re invincible. You are not. These accidents really do happen. It could happen to you.
They say that you could travel the length of a football field while taking your eyes off the road for just five seconds.
One hundred yards.
IN THE LATE AFTERNOON of that day in 2005 I said goodbye to my beloved pickup truck at a body shop in Mason City. She was totaled.
Within days I purchased a lovely little 2005 Ford Focus. We are together still, more than 157,000 miles later.
But it’s good to stop and think about how my inattentive driving could have negatively impacted people for decades to come.
Maybe an invisible someone at the mock car crash guided me through the big crowd to speak with just the right student: one who had been in an accident due to distracted driving. Just like me.
It was great to see the mock car crash “victims” alive and healthy and laughing afterward.
Gotta love high school kids.
It’s all pretty sobering, though.
In the words of my dear late Dad:
“Stay in your lane.”
I’ll go you one better, Dad, and keep it simple:
“ALWAYS PAY ATTENTION WHILE YOU’RE DRIVING!”