CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 5 DANIEL CROSS
B Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment
Directorate of Evaluation and Standardization
Fort Rucker, Alabama
Like most Soldiers, I’ve read the articles and seen the posters that say, “Seat Belts Save Lives.” But I never really thought I would be involved in an accident. That all changed when I was in a life-threatening two-vehicle collision in Kuwait. I now know firsthand the value of wearing a seat belt.
I was stationed at Camp Udari, Kuwait. Though most of our battalion had moved forward and was in Bagdad, our company remained at Udari with two important missions: provide aviation intermediate maintenance support and find, requisition and push forward desperately needed parts.
One morning, I was riding in a non-tactical vehicle with a contractor. We were heading from Camp Udari to Camp Doha, and I was riding in the front passenger seat. One of the NCOs from my company was also riding with us because he was going on emergency leave and needed to get to Camp Doha. He was sitting in the back seat, behind the driver. We were all wearing our seat belts.
As we approached a three-way intersection, there were several commercial buses filled with Soldiers in the left lane stopped at the traffic light. There was no traffic in the right lane, so the contractor driving our vehicle merged over and slowed down. When the light turned green, he accelerated and we started to pass the buses in the left lane. Because the buses were blocking our vision of the intersection, we didn’t realize a civilian tractor-trailer in the oncoming lane had run a red light and was making a left turn in front of us.
As we entered the intersection, we saw the tractor-trailer but had no time to react. We struck the side of it at the rear dual tires. I don’t remember the airbags deploying, but they did. I do remember moving the airbag out of the way and noticing the vehicle was now on fire. Apparently, the impact broke the fuel line and something had ignited it.
The contractor had injured his ankle but said he was otherwise OK. My body was hurting, but, as far as I could tell, I was also fine. I jumped out to help the NCO in the back seat. He’d bitten his tongue on impact and had the wind knocked out of him. The impact was hard enough that the body of the vehicle had buckled and the doors on the left side would not open. However, the NCO was able to slide across the seat and exit the vehicle from the right side.
After getting him clear of the vehicle, I went back to help the driver. By this time, there were Soldiers coming from the buses that were next to us at the intersection. They were able to help carry the contractor away from the burning vehicle. Within a few minutes, the vehicle was engulfed in flames. Shortly thereafter, an Army ambulance arrived at the scene to take us to the hospital. The contractor was admitted with a broken ankle, while the NCO and I were released after being examined.
After this accident, two things became very clear to me. First, seat belts saved our lives. Second, defensive driving could have prevented this accident. As we approached the intersection in the right lane, we could not see because the buses to our left blocked our view. In our case, we had the green light. Unfortunately, there is always someone who thinks he or she can beat the light. That may have been the attitude of the tractor-trailer driver. If we’d driven more defensively, we would have slowed down so we could see past the buses before entering the intersection. We may have been able to stop and avoid the accident.
The one thing we did do right that day was buckle up. Always wear your seat belt whenever you’re in a vehicle. You never know when it’s going to save your life.