Pushing My Luck
Naval Support Activity
Hanging upside down in my driver seat, restrained by my seat belt, I was thinking, “How did I get here? What did I do to get myself in this situation?” All I could see through my windshield was the snow on the ground. Then I suddenly heard knocking on my window and my buddy asking, "Scott, are you OK?"
So how did I end up on the roof of my Ford Explorer on the side of Interstate 70 in Kansas? Let’s go back to 10 a.m. the previous day. It was a Friday and my buddy, Tom, and I had just graduated from the Battalion Motor Officer Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky. As soon as the ceremony was over, we changed clothes, checked out of our hotel and hit the road. We needed to get back to our unit at Fort Carson, Colorado, by Monday morning. Although it was a 1,200-mile drive, Tom and I figured we could make it by Saturday morning if we drove through the night. We had our own vehicles, so we decided to just follow each other.
Initially, the trip went without any incidents. However, as we passed Kansas City, Kansas, on I-70, we ran into a blizzard. It caught us by surprise because neither of us had checked the weather conditions for our route before we left. I was in the lead, following an 18-wheeler. The blowing snow had cut my visibility to less than 20 feet and I could barely see the back of the tractor-trailer.
Sunset was about 6 p.m. Shortly afterward, we started seeing cars pulling off the side of the highway — their drivers stopping because of the poor visibility. That didn’t deter us. All we were concerned about was getting home as fast as we could.
The snowplows were working hard, their blades piling up large mounds of powder along the sides of the highway. Eventually, we began encountering black ice on the road. We watched as some of the cars ahead of us fishtailed, went off the highway and plowed into the snow-piled embankments. One car in particular, driven by an elderly gentleman, slid into the grass median. Being good Samaritans, we pulled over to push his car back onto the road so he could get going again.
Ironically, although I’d been pushing my luck all day, it wasn’t until after we’d rendered assistance that it changed for the worse. Once the elderly gentleman was on his way, I got back into my truck, buckled up and started to merge with the traffic. My Explorer had four-wheel drive, but I didn’t use it because I didn’t want to get out and manually lock the hubs. Besides, the snow was letting up and visibility was improving.
Because it was dark, I didn’t see the ice ahead of me. I had slowly accelerated to 30 mph when the back of the Explorer suddenly fishtailed. I turned the wheel and pumped my brakes, but I couldn’t stop sliding. The Explorer slid from the left-hand lane across the right-hand lane and onto the right shoulder. The right side hit the piled-up snow on the embankment, causing my vehicle to flip. Only my seat belt kept me from being thrown around inside or ejected and seriously injured.
I could have missed all of this excitement had I considered the risks before taking off on my trip. For example, had I checked the weather, I wouldn’t have been surprised by the blizzard. I also should have planned a more reasonable trip schedule — one with an overnight stay and rest breaks. Trying to drive 1,200 miles straight through was a sure setup for fatigue, something you don’t need when you’re driving.
So how much did it cost me to be in a hurry? Well, it took me longer to get to Fort Carson than I’d planned. In dollars and cents, the damage to my truck ran $3,245. I was fortunate my insurance covered $2,900 of that. I was even more fortunate this accident didn’t cost me my life. Wearing my seat belt kept me alive so I could pass along these lessons learned. That said, preventing accidents is better than surviving them.
Prepare yourself for winter driving with the following tips from the Texas Department of Transportation:
- Check the road conditions in your area and stay tuned to local news broadcasts for more information on roadway and weather conditions.
- Remove snow and ice from your vehicle before you drive, making sure the headlights and taillights are visible.
- Accelerate slowly.
- Increase your following distance.
- Brake gently in slow, steady strokes to see how much traction you have, and begin braking early when approaching intersections or stops.
- Approach bridges, shaded spots, overpasses and turns slowly.
- Never use cruise control in winter driving conditions.
- Use non-freezing windshield washer fluid.
- Use snow tires and/or chains (where allowed).
It’s also a good idea to keep a winter survival kit in your vehicle in case of an emergency. According to the Texas DOT, a good kit should include at least the following items:
- Blankets and warm clothes
- Shovel and scraper
- Flashlight and batteries
- Candles or Sterno flame
- Lighter or matches
- First aid kit
- Booster cables
- Chain/tow strap
- Non-perishable food