Archive for Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: Winter storm puts driving in perspective

February 11, 2004

Kansas Speedway has been home to plenty of collisions on its 1.5 mile tri-oval track.

Another wreck occurred near the speedway Feb. 1, but stock cars weren't involved.

Void of sponsor logos plastered everywhere, this collision involved a Chevrolet Impala and a mid-size truck -- but they weren't jockeying for position near the wall or headed down a straightaway.

Just east of the Kansas Highway 7-State Avenue cloverleaf, I was driving east on State for a Super Bowl party in Overland Park.

Headed west, a truck lost control on the icy four-lane highway. The vehicle crossed the centerline and its front end squarely struck my car near the driver's side front tire. I was traveling between 45 and 50 miles per hour. I'm uncertain what his speed was.

The truck's engine took on the image of an accordion; the Impala was left with heavy damage to the front driver's side panel. The impact pushed my vehicle into the ditch and the right bumper was damaged after hitting a tree.

Like NASCAR drivers jumping from a hideous scene unscathed, we scrambled from our vehicles on the highway. Everyone involved -- the other driver, a passenger in my car and me -- was left with stiff and sore muscles. My hand was cut from a busted driver's side window and a small abrasion appeared under my chin from the impact of the air bag. The passenger in my car was sore as well, but we walked away.

Thankfully, concerned Tonganoxie residents were nearby. Vivian Sanders let us sit inside her warm vehicle until police came. THS students Sam Mitchell and Zach Ditty stopped to check our condition, and David Walker and Andy Gilner drove us back to Tonganoxie.

After looking at pictures of the car repeatedly in the following days, the reality of our true good fortune became much more obvious.

I only had driven the Impala for about 13 months. My previous vehicle was totaled after a dog ran onto the road on U.S. Highway 24-40 between Tonganoxie and Lawrence in December 2002. After momentarily attempting to miss the animal, my car struck the dog and then went into a 180-degree turn before stopping in the ditch on the west side of the road.

I've pondered whether to abstain from driving during winter months. I'd rather not have a third winter be the charm. And leaving my car at home certainly would keep it clean.

After experiencing those accidents, my mind shifted to that popular activity fans swarm to Kansas Speedway for every summer. I really can't fathom the logic of jumping in a stock car weekend after weekend and traveling at triple-digit speeds for anywhere from 200 to 330 laps around a 1.5-mile track.

The sport certainly takes steel-enforced nerves laced with a touch of stupidity. OK, there's some courage in there too. Most sports can cause some level of injury, but auto racing seems to claim the most lives.

Drivers, however, are human and they usually can shrug off doubt effectively.

I also had that mentality Feb. 1. I saw the winter storm warnings on television. I knew the roads might become treacherous. But, hey, when I left home the weather wasn't that bad -- yet.

An insurance agent asked whether there was anything I could have done to avoid the accident.

After relaying this tidbit to my father, he responded, "stayed at home."

Yes, Dad, you were right.

But when you've been invited to a Super Bowl party with great friends, your judgment can be altered.

The bottom line is: No matter how well you can drive in adverse conditions, others might not possess your ability. As we waited for law enforcement to arrive on the scene, some vehicles barreled along the highway as if they didn't notice a decrepit vehicle on the shoulder and another in the ditch.

After authorities arrived, another accident occurred probably 100 yards east. That accident involved a pedestrian.

My accident won't stop me from driving. I'm more edgy at times when I see another vehicle pull out of a parking lot or change lanes, but being more alert isn't necessarily a bad thing.

And as NASCAR drivers have firewalls, we have air bags. An apple-and-orange comparison, but both help reduce injury.

Vehicles are made safer every year, but the logic still remains: If you don't need to be on the road during bad weather, stay at home.

I hope I pay heed to my own advice in the future. After all, an air bag and a seat belt can only do so much.

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