Every time I leave my house, I have to confront the memory. The nightmare.
I can’t avoid it; I can’t turn around and take another route. I can’t NOT think about it as I approach the intersection, because it’s the only way for me to make it onto the main road. I can’t do anything but place my foot on the gas and take a deep breath as I drive ahead.
Three years ago, I was in a serious car accident – just moments from my front door. Now I won’t be so dramatic as to say it changed my whole life, but it did give me profound insight into one truth: FOCUS on the Road.
It was a sunny, cold morning and my husband was uncharacteristically working from home for the first part of the day. Seizing an opportunity to run to the grocery store without toting two tots, I threw on a coat and jumped into his car, yelling that I would return in less than 20 minutes.
IT ONLY TAKES ONE SECOND TO CHANGE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.
The grocery run itself was unremarkable; loading up on baby cereal, assorted fruits and veggies, I left the store and drove the 4-minute commute back to my house. (Repeat: the 4-minute commute.) At the major intersection before my side street, I waited patiently for the light to turn green.
I remember glancing out the window; thinking about what I should make for dinner that night, chewing on my bottom lip. The light turned green, and I calmly stepped on the gas. Rihanna sang away on the radio.
And the next thing I knew, I felt the force of impact; air bags exploding all around me; the smell of burnt rubber assaulting my nose. I opened my eyes and was acutely aware that although I was travelling westbound, I was now facing north… in the southbound traffic lanes. What the hell had happened?
4 MILLION DISTRACTED DRIVER-RELATED CRASHES OCCUR IN NORTH AMERICA EACH YEAR.
I went into shock. I couldn’t feel the entire left side of my body; my hands were shaking on the steering wheel. Panicked, I looked into the faces of commuters in the southbound lanes. They stared back at me with bored, unattached expressions – like they hadn’t just witnessed a major traffic accident. And when their light turned green, one man actually honked at me and motioned for me to drive my car off to the side… um, I suppose he didn’t realize that half my car was missing.
(Later, a paramedic explained that Canadians just don’t “do” accidents. Witnesses often don’t know how to react – or would rather not be inconvenienced by staying to help – so they just look the other way and pretend nothing happened. Then, they have a nice story to tell the colleagues when they finally make it in to work – but only after complaining they got caught behind an accident.)
Thankfully, a kind woman walking along the sidewalk rushed to my car and opened the door. She asked if I was okay, instructed me to put the car in park, and pulled me out of the car and onto the sidewalk. Within moments, the trio of police, fire and paramedics arrived and I was whisked into the ambulance to be checked over.
It was then explained to me that the other driver, travelling northbound, was chatting away on her cell phone and had run the red light, hitting me at close to 80 km/hr.
DRIVERS ARE 5 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO CRASH WHILE CHATTING ON CELL PHONES.
Although it didn’t look like I had serious injuries, I was sent to the hospital for evaluation. And without telling me, I already knew my vehicle was a total loss.
(When I first recounted the story to friends, the knee-jerk reaction was always “Not the Mini!” Ha ha ha, nope, I was driving my husband’s Nissan Altima. I felt really bad for him; it was not even a year old!)
At the hospital, deep tissue contusions were confirmed – broken bones were ruled out. I was free to go home and recuperate after being forewarned that other injuries would likely pop up after a few days or weeks. For the first few nights, I iced about 6-7 tennis ball sized bruises down my left side. One word: SORE. Later, lateral whiplash set in; essentially, with the force of impact my head had snapped to the right, causing injury along the muscles. Three words: MONTHS of physiotherapy.
IN 2013, 78 PEOPLE DIED IN DISTRACTED-DRIVING RELATED COLLISIONS.
So after shopping for a new car (my least favourite kind of shopping), dealing with insurance companies, going to physiotherapy – not to mention taking care of two little boys while in copious amounts of pain – I had a new found dislike for distracted drivers. Of course, the icing on the cake was when the driver pleaded “not guilty” in order to get a reduced fine, and she did… $360 and a handful of demerit points for partially screwing up my life.
However, I always like to learn from experiences, so here are my pearls of wisdom:
1. FOCUS on the Road. Driving requires your full attention. Losing your focus on the road can lead to weaving in and out of your lane, missing a traffic sign and putting yourself, passengers and others at risk.
2. Be a good Samaritan. I’m not saying that you have to throw yourself in front of a car for someone, but do take a moment to see if another human being is alright. Immediately after the accident I was in complete shock; I didn’t even remember how to use my hands or feet. If not for the kind stranger who walked over to me, chances are I’d still be sitting in my car, waiting for someone to come to my aid.
3. Accidents happen; Move on. For a short while following the crash, I was consumed with anger and frustration. I didn’t want to take on the expense of a new car (have you seen what insurance companies pay out?), I didn’t have time for physiotherapy, and I didn’t want to rearrange my plans and schedules – all because of some thoughtless individual. But then I realized that 20 years ago, before advanced automobile safety features, I likely would not have walked away from that collision at all. And since I’m fairly certain that the other driver didn’t mean to run a red light… c’est la vie. It’s always easier to let go than hang on.
4. Make the Promise. CAA South Central Ontario (CAA SCO) and other traffic safety partners have come together to launch a six week long education and awareness campaign. I urge all my readers to make the promise to end distracted driving.
It’s simple, go online to caasco.com/focus and promise to your family and friends to focus on the road.
After you’ve made the promise, be sure to share via social media or email to help spread the message. To continue the conversation, @CAASCO will be hosting the #CAAfocus Twitter Party on Tuesday, August 5th at 12:00pm ET. Join us for an informative chat with the chance to win great prizes.
So, I’ve shared my story. Want to prevent it happening to someone else? Make the Promise: caasco.com/focus.