As three friends and I were travelling home from college to celebrate my birthday this weekend, we were hit by a distracted driver who lost control of her vehicle while passing us. Though we all walked away from the accident in one piece, I still felt obligated to share our story in the hope that it will advocate cautious driving.
Without further ado, I present to you five takeaways from a car crash.
It CAN Happen to You
If you were raised by parents like mine, you are probably immune to the following phrases:
“Wear your seat belt!”
They’re overused, but for a good reason.We’re all devastated when we see the news stories on fatal car accidents, we all briefly think it could have happened to me, to my family—but it didn’t, and the stories remain incongruous. I suppose no one ever suspects that they will be the reason traffic is backed up on the interstate, that their faces will be the ones that show up on the news next to a headline reading “FATAL ACCIDENT.” Those are things that happen to other people.
But the reality is that an accident can happen to anyone, anytime. Growing up in the Midwest, I’ve had to drive through the most gruesome weather conditions: blizzards, roads like ice-skating rinks, downpours, sidepours, fog with zero percent visibility, tornado warnings, you name it. Though I’ve had some downright terrifying car rides, I’ve always made it through.
I never thought there would be reason to be terrified on a perfectly clear, sunny day. But that’s when we got hit.
Constant Vigilance! (Bonicelli Saves Lives)
As I’ve retold this story to friends and family, I’ve found myself describing us as “really lucky.” But it wasn’t just luck; we were cautious.
Okay, so it started with luck: just before the crash, we happened to be playing the best car game of all time, Bonicelli. I’m not sure where the name came from or if it is really the title of this game, but it’s one that my dad’s family has played for generations, and I passed it on to my friends (I guess that’s what people do before they have kids). It’s basically like 20 Questions, but people edition. Sophie had just guessed my pick (Mike from Mike’s Super Short Show–does anyone else remember him??), and was probably thinking of a celebrity to choose. Because we were playing the game, she was turned around in her seat, looking at Garret and I (who were riding in the back). Cole, who was driving, was looking forward until Sophie pointed and began saying “Oh God Oh God Oh God…” She was pointing past me, out my window, at a car that was swerving out of control. As the driver was passing us, she had gotten caught in the bumpy stuff on the side of the highway that is supposed to wake you up if you’re falling asleep on the road. It’s kind of ironic, now that I think about it.
I turned in time to see a car, a car that was so red against the soft green plains and the beautiful blue sky, heading straight for my window. It was a sight that made paralyzed my heart mid-beat, in a way that I’d never experienced before. I glanced at Garret, whose eyes and mouth made perfect O’s that probably mirrored my own, before I ducked and covered.
If you can imagine a bumper car slamming into you at 80 miles per hour, that’s about what this felt like. But it didn’t hit me, like I was expecting. It hit just behind the back left wheel of our car, sending us into a 360 on the highway. The best way to describe the feeling is like a roller coaster, except we didn’t know how it was going to end.
The reason that I wasn’t hit, as I had anticipated, is that Cole saw what Sophie was pointing at and stomped on the gas, hoping to miss the car entirely. But she was coming too fast. What he did do was probably save me from paralyzation, or quite possibly death. I don’t call that luck—I call it a friend knowing what he was doing.
After our spin, Cole was able to get control of the vehicle and drive us into the ditch. As Sophie later described it, “It was like floating onto a flower bed” after what we’d just been through. Despite minor bumps and bruises, we were all okay.
The main takeaway here is that even if you listen to your parents’ words of caution, you can only control what YOU do as a driver. But the scary, and pretty unfair, part is that what other people do can still put you in harm’s way.
I called 911 and no one answered. What was that about? You called me back about two minutes later, and casually said you had a missed call from my number. It deeply unsettles me that you can’t do your job right.
To the highway patrolman that came to the scene: I realize this is your job. You see car accidents all the time, and they may mean nothing to you by now. But to four college students who had barely entered their twenties, seeing their lives flash before their eyes was kind of a big deal. Correction: a REALLY BIG deal. And when we were scared and unsure of what to do, you made it worse. Instead of offering guidance, you rushed us. “I’m not staying here all night,” you lectured us through the passenger window as you stood idly by.
Later, as you were driving us behind the tow truck, you stopped to yell out your window to some other cops. “I gotta take these guys to Alex,” you said. “It’s too late for fishing anyway.” Officer, I’m so sorry that another car crashing into us ruined your fishing plans. It truly grieves me to have inconvenienced you.
As young adults, we’re labelled. Reckless drivers. Of course you were annoyed with us. Once you realized we weren’t the ones responsible, you treated us with a bit more kindness. But that would have been nice from the get-go. And you didn’t apologize, either.
It reminded me of the time my doctor was trying to figure out the reason for my anemia. An eating disorder, she insisted. I was a teenage girl; of course an eating disorder was the answer. Even after assuring her that no, I probably eat too much, several times, she still persisted.
If any doctors, cops, emergency respondents, or anyone in any profession that deals with people’s’ well-being is reading this, please let the takeaway be that you need to treat each case as a new one. I don’t care if you’ve seen a hundred reckless teen drivers. The hundred-and-first teen might be the victim. I don’t care that every other anemic teenage girl has had an eating disorder. I was different, and you didn’t help me for months.
Dear Other Driver,
You said sorry, but only in passing, as you were simultaneously talking on the phone with someone else. You didn’t ask if we were okay, you just assumed. You accepted responsibility, but you never explained yourself. You got to drive away, your bumper barely hanging on, as we sat in pools of sweat under the three o’clock sun, waiting for a tow truck.
There’s a lot that I could say to you, but I’ll be quick. The cop said you admitted to driving while distracted. I don’t know what that means. Were you texting? Checking Facebook? Daydreaming? Whatever it was, do you realize that it could have cost four lives that day? And if so, was it more important than us?
I’m grateful that you’re okay. When I prayed before I went to bed that night, you were the first person I thanked God for. I forgive you for hitting us. But my forgiveness comes with a condition—learn from what did. Please. You almost took away my parent’s youngest child. You almost took me from my brother and sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, and my boyfriend. I’m lucky, and so are they. But it could be a different story for someone else if you don’t change your ways.
They say that the first meal you eat after a near-death encounter is the best you’ll ever taste. Arby’s roast beef, curly fries, and chocolate shake really hit the spot on the drive home. So did my birthday cake when we finally got to Fargo and celebrated another year of my life.
It would be easy to be angry about what happened to us. It wasn’t our fault, after all. We just got hit. But what’s the point of being mad when there’s so much to be grateful for? I’m filled with gratitude for every experience I’ve been given, the good and bad, because it means I’m alive, and I’m learning. I’m grateful for the scab across my knee that splits open every time I bend it too far. It reminds me of what happened, and that I am lucky (no, fortunate) to be alive another day. I’m grateful for the friends I shared this experience with, and for the memory it will become.
And I guess riding in the back of a cop car was pretty cool, too.
As a final word, we were very fortunate to walk away from such a bad accident. I fully acknowledge that. I’m also well aware that others do not live to share their stories. So, if you get anything out of this post, I hope it’s this: what you do as a driver not only affects you, but everyone else on the road, their families, and their friends. Please remember that next time you think about checking your phone or other distractions while driving.