Cruising to a Crash
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 RYAN LOFRANCO
A Company, 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
It had been a great day at the Atlanta Supercross. Three first-timers and I had driven five hours from Clarksville, Tennessee, for the evening show and were determined to have as much fun as possible. We arrived early so we could spend plenty of time in the pits admiring the finely tuned machinery. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and soon it was time for the long trip home. While we didn’t know it at the time, but the return trip would provide nearly as much excitement as the races.
We knew the trip home would take a while due to traffic leaving the stadium, so we prepped for driving shifts. The plan called for the pair up front to remain awake while the other two slept in the back. Two hours into the trip, the excitement of the race had worn off, and first team was ready for a shift change. We pulled into a gas station for some refreshments and I then jumped in the driver’s seat while the other sleeper rode shotgun.
About an hour into our shift, we ran into a big thunderstorm that drastically reduced our speed. I continued driving at a slower pace, which further added time to our trip. My co-pilot started nodding off as we ran out of topics to discuss, so two hours after we had departed on this leg, I pulled over to swap out drivers. After more refreshments and a crew change, I was asleep in the back in no time.
When the rain finally subsided, the driver set the cruise control and relaxed a bit. Everything was going smoothly when the bottom dropped out of the clouds again. The vehicle hydroplaned momentarily when we drove through some standing water, so the driver decided to turn off the cruise control. Out of habit, he tapped the brakes to disengage, which put the car into an uncontrolled spin through the median and down a grassy divide.
Luckily, there was no concrete culvert, and the rain had made the grass slippery enough to slide on without the tires sinking into the ground and flipping the car. Additionally, our plan to rotate drivers allowed us to have alert personnel at the controls to respond to the situation properly. For us in the backseat, all we could do was hold on and brace for an impact. Thankfully, the impact never came, and we came to rest in a lane that had no oncoming traffic.
Shaken but uninjured, we drove to the next exit, where we poured out of the car to check for damage. Fortunately for us, the car sustained no damage, just an accumulation of wet grass and a covering of loamy, wet soil. Needless to say, we were no longer drowsy, so we decided to carry on and make the rest of the drive as a team to make it home safely.
As we drove, we discussed our near miss. We determined that the driver should have manually disengaged the cruise control with the “cancel” switch/button the moment the rain started. As we found out, even tapping the brakes on a rain-slicked road can send you into a spin.