I don't want to get all "after school special", but a seatbelt and an airbag may have saved my life last night. It's terrible, but fifteen years of driving without anything worse than a scrape and a broken taillight tends to make you overconfident. You take it for granted that you have control over this ton of steel careening down the roadway. In my case, I was further spoiled by over three years of driving in wild (I'm not going to say wonderful :p) West Virginia, where it's not unusual to be going 45 mph around winding back country roads. I felt invincible. In hindsight (and isn't that always the kicker?), I was going much faster than I should have been. I wish a cop had pulled me over, but to be honest, I wasn't going super duper fast, just faster than was safe. It was the turn that did me in. Really sharp, with minimal warning. When you see those yellow curve warning signs with suggested speeds greatly reduced from the road's regular speed limit, or those signs with the chevron arrows pointing left or right, they're there for a reason.
I took that 90+ degree S-curve (more like the first bend in a W-curve) too fast, may have run over some gravel, and lost control of the car. I wanted it to veer left, to stay on the road, but I no longer had the power to manipulate its massive momentum. I was headed way too fast into a row of large concrete blocks located just off the side of the road, and I knew that this was it - I was going to crash. The brakes couldn't stop me - it was an inevitability; space and time were inextricably linked, and conspiring to send me into that obstacle. There was no longer any side to side, only one dimension: ahead, and all it contained was a great big dead end. It happened too fast to think, and yet at the same time, I remember every second. When the car hit the obstacle, it stopped in remarkable time - considering the speed it was moving at - and I remember seeing the airbag coming towards me. Just like that, I had gone from cruising along the road with music playing on the radio, to being at ground zero of the sort of car crash I'd only ever seen in the movies.
I heard a loud ringing in my left ear. My face was numb, probably from the impact of the airbag. Otherwise, I felt pretty much okay, considering what had just happened. I was concerned about my friend in the passenger seat, and immeasurably relieved to find that she was alive and responsive. There was a lot of smoke in the car - a side-effect from the deployment of the airbags - which made it rather hard to breathe, and left a bad, chalky taste in my mouth. I felt compelled to get out of the car, partly to get some fresh air, and partly because I didn't know how bad the damage to the car was, and Hollywood has conditioned me to expect an explosion. (Thankfully, there was no explosion). But before stepping out, I instinctively grabbed for my keys. They were locked in the ignition. I tried shutting it off, only to realize that the car was still in drive. I tried to put it into park, then remembered that you have to put your foot on the brake first. That the car was in a state of engagement, yet not moving, was a decidedly counterintuitive situation.
I figured it out quickly and retrieved my keys, then exited the vehicle. I walked behind the car and over to the passenger side, away from the road. My friend stepped out, and we confirmed to each other that we were more or less okay. Our adrenaline was still pumping, and I know I was pretty shaken up, but we were walking, which is a good sign. It was pretty dark (about 9:30 at night), but I realized that I wasn't seeing clearly - because my glasses weren't sitting on my face. I didn't remember losing them, but they must have come off during the crash. I felt a couple of lumps on my face, and my friend told me I was bleeding. Thankfully, it was nothing more than a few surface scratches, presumably caused by the nose pads of my glasses as they flew off my face. My friend reached back into the car and found first her glasses, and then mine - both of which ended up in the back seat. My glasses weren't broken, which is good, but they were bent up quite a bit.
Then came the aftershock, in which we had to process the catastrophe that had just occurred, and figure out what to do next. My friend's been in a few accidents throughout her life, so she had more experience than I did. I was just incredibly relieved that we had both survived - and in relatively good condition, too. My car didn't make out quite so well. We called AAA and had them send a tow truck, though it took a good 45 minutes or longer to get to us. In the meantime, my friend called her son-in-law, who drove out to meet us, and ultimately gave us a ride home. Uncertain of the extent of our injuries, we decided to head to the hospital to get a few X-rays (and some peace of mind). Although not before several hours of anxiety-inducing waiting (you know how hospitals are). (On the lighter side, you know you're passing when you go in for an X-ray, and the nurse asks you, "any chance of pregnancy?"). I checked out fine - miraculously, it seems that my worst injury is the minor scrape caused by my glasses. My friend got it a little worse - she was on the passenger side where most of the damage was done. She's bruised and in pain, but nothing's broken, and we were able to make it back home by about 2:30 in the morning.
I feel really stupid and guilty for letting this happen - and for putting not just myself, but another person in danger - somebody I really care about. At the same time that I am thankful that our injuries weren't more serious, I can't help thinking, "what if it had been even worse?" Could I have lived with myself then? Perhaps it's pointless to dwell on hypotheticals. Regardless, it's an experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I don't want to let myself become scared of driving - I drove out to the hospital and back after the crash, so I think that's a good sign - but I think I will drive a lot more carefully from now on, West Virginia speed limits be damned. Not that I've ever been a reckless driver - I hate that I let this happen, because I've always been very proud of my excellent driving record. But I'm not proud of my driving last night. I guess it just goes to show that nobody is immune to making mistakes. But when you're driving, you're putting your life (and possibly others) on the line, so it pays to be vigilant. My heartfelt thanks goes out to everyone responsible for designing and installing the seatbelts and airbags that make these death machines just a little bit less dangerous. And I look forward to the day that may be coming not too far in the future, when intelligent cars begin to do the driving for us.