The Day My Mom Will Never Forget #SharingSafety

I want to share with you a story. My guardian angels have been busy with me for thirty years. This is just one instance that they were truly looking out for me. I write this to make you, dear readers, aware that October 18-24 is National Teen Driver Safety Week. So I'm sharing from my teenage years, the moment when the advice became REAL. Lets spread our tips and advice and #sharesafety this week to promote safer roads and everyone arriving alive.

I woke up a little foggy. Had I just dreamed about a stagnant-smelling swamp? About having wet hands? No. No, that was real. My hands were wet, slippery. My khaki uniform looked a little muddied--hadn't I just put it on? Clean? Pressed? The semi-darkness was real. The smell -- the swampy, musky water smell? Real. Sitting on the roof of the inside of my car while still tangled in my seat belt? Real. What a Monday I'm having, I thought.

MONDAY: June 16th, 2003

Then a bit of controlled panic set it. I was 17 years old. Movies had not done me any favors for this situation. My thoughts flooded in as the water trickled through somewhere, unseen. I was upside down. I was in my Sunfire--my graduation gift that was less than three weeks old. I couldn't find anything and was completely disoriented, so my old-school Nokia phone was no good to me if I couldn't find it. I couldn't waste time finding it. (Enter Hollywood logic.) My car was obviously in danger of blowing up with me inside. That's what happened in accidents, right?

Photo Credit: Flickr/Sam Beebe
So, with the fiery blast in the back of my mind, I reached for the window lever (thankfully, when I opted for a moon-roof, it meant that power windows were not in that package) I was able to crank the window open about a quarter of the way. It was just enough for me to squeeze like a lab puppy bailing under a chain link fence and out into the open air. I was free of the wreck. I quickly climbed up to the two-lane state highway and took in my surroundings.

There weren't any other cars. So this was a one-car ordeal. There also weren't any houses. That made sense, I was in the middle of nowhere--hence the adjacent National Park. I looked down at the undercarriage of my new car. This was the epitome of depreciation. Thinking of the cars condition, it occurred to me to look at my own body. I had just a little blood on my hand, no doubt from crawling around to get out. My chest hurt. I felt pretty darn good for just rolling a vehicle.

I suppose ten minutes went by. Me, standing on the side of the road, slowly walking along the shoulder in the direction which I hoped would lead me to a house, with a phone -- not just a "hunting shack" or summer cabin. I heard a car, I stepped aside and ironically, my best friend since infancy was behind the wheel. Blessed with kindness and good humor, but empty of common sense she waved and smiled and drove by. Yes. My best friend neglected to see the car in the ditch, the fact that I was wet and muddy, or that I was 8 miles from town, and waved happily as she drove by. Later in the day she would tell our mutual friend: "I'm such a bad friend for just driving by! I thought she was just working! She does work for the park, you know!!"

Finally, after watching my best friend drive on, which only served to anger me, a semi truck pulled over and let me use his truck phone to call my parents. The driver stayed there until they arrived, only minutes later. My mom, bawling, my dad had already begun his journey to work as well and didn't have a cell phone back then, so he was not yet aware. I got in my mom's van and we drove home after talking to our local policeman and thanking the trucker.

My car never did blow up. Do you know how you'd react in the same situation? It's not a bad idea to prepare for the worst, while hoping for the best. I'm incredibly thankful to NOT be part of this statistic (updated by ten years to reflect the current numbers):

Car crashes remain the No. 1 killer of teens, with 2,614 teen drivers of passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes in 2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

What Went Wrong?

I told our Police Chief I didn't remember anything. I was baffled to find myself suddenly in "the ditch." I didn't have to do a field sobriety test. It was pretty clear that I wasn't partying in my ranger uniform at such an early hour on a Monday. He scouted the scene and there were no "tire marks" to indicate me slamming on the brakes and losing control. It wasn't likely that a deer or fox or other animal had jumped out and I had swerved.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Dominic Alves
The gradual trajectory of my car from the highway indicated that most likely I'd fallen asleep at the wheel. Once my car hit the ditch it continued on it's path until an approach for a forest road gave it lift to shoot into the air, jump the little road, and land upside down in the little wet ditch on the other side. Looking at the mile north and south of this spot, I was very lucky I hadn't landed in the ditches that were filled with over six feet of deep, cattail-choked water. There was no way to know if I woke up on impact or if I sat there for several minutes asleep or unconscious. To this day, I have no memory of any part of the accident or leading up to the accident. Actually, my 17 year-old self was ashamed to admit that the last thing I remembered was lighting a cigarette and inhaling a puff or two. Oddly, my cigarette was found in-tact, extinguished with only a few drags taken from it. [So not only should you drive safely, you should NOT smoke! I'm happy to report I haven't had a cigarette since before my children came to this Earth...don't make my mistake!]

The cop said "I can't believe you got out of there!" Meaning that it was a squeeze, not that I was larger than life -- I can still remember the silly feeling of being offended by that, not amazed like everyone else. Even now in the day and age of Siri and Tom Tom and power EVERYTHING, I'm thankful for manual crank windows--and usually look for or order this "feature" in cars.

Once at home, we called the local towing company (this had taken place in a rural town, so the state patrol didn't show up lights blazing with a AAA tow truck in a rescue caravan.) The tow truck owner had a daughter that I had been in cheerleading with. He said to stop by the shop and I could look for my glasses, phone, and other salvageable goods later that morning.

I called work. I remember telling them "I was going to be late, I'd rolled my car and would need to arrange to drive my parents vehicle." My boss was a little taken back and said, that I should probably just take as much time off as I needed to rest. I also remember feeling SO BAD telling her that several park "library books" which I'd borrowed to study up on the history of the area had been soaked with swamp water and wrecked.

Lessons Learned

I feel like I did it all right that day, well, maybe save for one key item. I wore my seat belt. I didn't often speed. My oil was changed and I had good tires with proper fill and balance--it was a brand new car, for goodness sake! [But, proper vehicle maintenance is a great thing to figure out before you leave the nest! Know how to at the very least check your tire pressure, change a flat, and check your oil.] I wasn't drinking. I was embarking on a fresh new adventure with the National Park Service and I was only about three weeks into my tour of duty that summer. I felt like I'd matured, become a better driver. I'd actually learned from a prior rollover (as a passenger), a fender bender as a learning driver, and all of the advice my parents had given me. So how was it that I'd ended up upside down, hanging in my seat belt, with a deployed airbag swiping my shoulders, placidly at 6 a.m. on a Monday?

Photo Credit: Flickr/William Warby
I was only 17, but I'd graduated a few weeks prior. I'd flown to New Hampshire to acquire some National Park Service/Student Conservation Association training. Then, I'd moved in to a small cabin at the park. So I was effectively living away from home before I was legally an adult. My high school sweetheart was still in my hometown and only lived about an hour from where I worked. So, I went home to mom and dads on weekends. Embarking on this new adventure made me realize that I really wanted to immerse myself in my work and not have the attachment of my boyfriend. So, Sunday night, with many tears, I broke it off with my long-time honey. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep and my eyes were obviously tired. Those events set into action the crash that could have easily been fatal, but thankfully was not. My guardian angels have their hands full, let me tell you!

So what's the lesson? Yes, the obvious one is rest well before driving. That's one to follow, for sure. But also, make good decisions. Plan past the next ten minutes of your life. As I was ending my high school relationship and looking forward to career-minded success and an adventure so exciting, all by myself, a real grown-up... I didn't think about the implications that staying up until midnight bawling and wiping my eyes and not sleeping might have. The only thought in my mind at that point was "I hope mascara will disguise the puffiness that my lids are sure to show in the morning." So you dear reader, I hope you will have some clearer, more mature thoughts in your head as you drive off. I hope mascara is the last thing on your mind. I hope you'll sleep. I hope you'll stay off your phone. I hope that you'll stay awake your entire journey and ALWAYS make sure you check in when you arrive! To this day, my thirty-year-old self shoots my mama a message when I get home safely with her grandbabies in tow.

My Seasoned Advice to You

If you're like me, adventure is in your cards. You feed off of adrenaline. But make that more motivation to drive safely. It made a good story at my wedding, for my Maid of Honor to admit to driving by her bestie after a crash, obliviously waving. This is not how some stories end. So I implore you -- be aware. Situational Awareness is a commandment of the firefighting and law enforcement world. Know the conditions of your travels, check in and out with people. Even as a firefighter, each day I knew the most dangerous thing I would do is drive to work each day.

Get Sleep. Good sleep.
2) Plan Better (obviously a break-up might take a while, bedtime isn't really the time to start that word war!) It's not the time to start binge-watching Walking Dead either if you have an early commute.
3) Check in and out with someone who cares, tell them your route.
4) Don't speed and wear your seat belt. (These you should really know and do already!)
5) Put your phone in your glove box. Not only does it save you from texting temptations, it will be where you left it if you DO have an accident, unlike mine, which I found in the ditch water the next day.

Now that I have children, and my parents have moved from being the nagging drones that I rolled my eyes at to my very best friends, I can appreciate all the worrying. Now I too nag my mom and dad when they leave from a visit with my kids that adore them... I text after an hour or two echoing my mom's words from my past: "Have you made it home? We love you!"

Michelin is launching a project to crowd source the best advice for staying safe of the road. We’re asking America to share tips based on what they’ve been taught and what they’ve learned over the years using the hash tag #SharingSafety.

Drive Safely! Share your best piece of driving advice -- either learned firsthand or passed down from your parents or mentors! Because whether you’re a new driver or have been driving for decades, we all share the road!

To promote safety this week, Michelin would like to giveaway a set of tires to get you or your kids off to a great start. RSVP for our the She Buys Cars #SharingSafety Twitter Party on Thursday, October 22nd and offer your best car safety tips. We’ll announce the winner of the $600 gift certificate for Michelin Tires at the end of the party.

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Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Michelin Tires and She Buys Cars. My story is a true one and I do hope that it will inspire safer driving for those that read it!


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