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Head On

Head On
208th Regional Support Group
Fort Jackson, S.C.

As Soldiers, we have all completed the online Army Accident Avoidance Course many times. And at the conclusion of each battle assembly, our leadership reminds us to drive safely. While these are both worthy efforts, the reality is human beings have a limited ability to maintain a heighted state of awareness. Nobody can stay fully alert for the entirety of an eight-hour drive. Therefore, it is important to recognize what driving situations require extra attention. My accident story, which resulted in the totaling of my car, is illustrative of such situations.

It was just before midnight and I was starting my nearly 450-mile drive from Orlando, Fla., to Fort Jackson, S.C. My plan was to arrive just in time for first formation, so I didn’t have much time to spare. As I drove north on I-95, I noticed a large number of deer feeding close to the roadside. This forced me to stay extra alert and drive slower than I would have otherwise.

When I entered the Jacksonville area about 2:30 a.m., I was able to somewhat relax since the threat of hitting a deer in such an urban area became less likely. At the time of my trip, my parents were in Hawaii, so I decided to break up the monotony of the drive by calling them using my hands-free system. During the call, I entered an area just north of downtown Jacksonville where the road has many curves.

As I traversed a long left-hand curve, I suddenly saw the headlights of a car coming toward me on my side of the interstate. Without even making a cognitive decision, I jerked the wheel hard to the left. This allowed me to avoid the oncoming car, but I knew I needed to get my vehicle headed back to the right ASAP. Just as I was turning the wheel back to the right, I slammed into a concrete median wall at 55 to 60 mph.

The airbags deployed, and when the car came to rest, I found myself without my glasses and surrounded by what looked like smoke but didn’t smell like a fire. Fortunately, it was just the remains of the airbag propellant, but at the time, I wasn’t certain that my car wasn’t about to burst into flames. I quickly grabbed my spare glasses, which were in the door map pocket, and literally leaped from small opening in the door. As I evaluated my condition, I was amazed to find that I had only suffered a small scratch on my thumb. Otherwise, I seemed to be unharmed.

When I looked across the three-lane road, I saw another driver had pulled over to check on me. He asked if I was OK, and I replied that I was fine. I then asked if he’d seen the car traveling the wrong direction on the interstate. The other driver said he did see the wrong-way vehicle, but this indicates how incredibly fast the entire event took place. Until he confirmed the existence of the other vehicle, I wasn’t even certain that what I thought had happened really occurred.

I later calculated, based on sight angles and likely speeds, that I had about 2.5 seconds to react once I first spotted the oncoming car. In reality, it’s unlikely that I was looking as far ahead of the curve as I could have. Why? Well, because on an interstate highway, there is never supposed to be any oncoming traffic. That’s why they are the safest roads in the country.

As I thought about the accident, I realized it would have been possible for me to have slammed right into the other car without ever seeing it. For example, had I chosen to take a drink of my coffee at that moment, I might not have even seen the car in time to make a maneuver. Even if I had seen it, would I have been able to make a controlled response with the coffee in my hand?

The lesson learned is that negotiating a curve, even a gradual curve on an interstate highway, is a situation that demands full alertness. There are many other situations, such as heavy traffic, bad weather, hills and passing tractor-trailers, that also demand a heightened level of attention. Again, since it is just not possible to maintain that heightened alertness for eight continuous hours, it is critical to maintain situational awareness in order to recognize when the situation requires that superior effort and attention.

  • 1 August 2013
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 7281
  • Comments: 0