Throwing Safety Out the Window
NAME WITHHELD BY REQEUST
Several winters ago, I crashed my car into a guardrail on a desolate strip of road in northern New York. I am not proud of my actions leading up to that day. This accident could have been prevented, however, had I been honest with my leadership.
My unit, like any other, conducted vehicle inspections prior to long weekends and block leave. The platoon sergeant informed us that he would be conducting vehicle inspections and had us fill out the heading information on our inspection sheet. I filled in minimal data and left the rest of the sheet blank. I would complete the rest of it the next morning. The reason? Well, on that particular day, I drove my beat-up car to work. There was no way I was going to let my boss inspect it because I knew it would never pass. What’s more, I didn’t have the money to repair all the things wrong with it. The car had four bald tires, the brakes were worn and it did not have all the required safety gear for the Fort Drum winter.
I left work that day with a plan. When I returned the following morning, I was driving my wife’s Ford Expedition. This vehicle had all the bells and whistles. In addition, it had four new Bridgestone tires and snow chains in the back. I filled out all the remaining information on the sheet and had the Expedition inspected. I had no doubt it would pass and it did.
The next morning, I returned to work driving my vehicle, excited for the four-day weekend. It was a normal January day with snow in the forecast. Everyone was keeping an eye on a big storm heading our way while getting the day’s work done. Just before lunch, the snow began to fall and all nonessential personnel were told to head home. I was in the middle of a project and informed my platoon sergeant that I would be on the road shortly. An hour later, I left the office and walked outside into a winter wonderland.
When I got to my car in the parking lot, I started removing the snow using my hands because I didn’t have an ice scraper. I then cranked it and turned the defroster on high until all the ice melted. Satisfied that my vision wouldn’t be impaired, I hit the road. My house was 40 minutes north in Gouverneur, New York, but I knew today’s commute was going to be much longer. I struggled through the blinding snow for 20 minutes, trying to keep my bald tires on the road. Then I lost control.
The car seemed to have a mind of its own and barreled into a guardrail, breaking the axle. It finally came to rest in a small ditch on the side on the road. Of course, there were no other vehicles on the road, and I didn’t have a phone or a plan. With my options limited, I walked about a half-mile until I reached a small house, where I called for help. I waited there for six hours until help arrived.
I learned a lot that day. I was ashamed that I did not have the money to repair my car and was afraid of what my platoon sergeant would say. I knew it was wrong, but I threw safety out the window to save face. In hindsight, this accident has made me a better leader. I remember how I felt back then and make it a point to get to know my Soldiers. As leaders, we are always enforcing the standard, but we can’t become complacent and make it a check-the-block activity, especially when it comes to safety.
If my platoon sergeant knew what car I drove to work every day, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get away with switching vehicles for the inspection. Also, implementing a no-notice vehicle inspection program would have uncovered my vehicle’s deficiencies and kept me from driving my car. Again, I am not proud of what I did. My actions that day had a very negative reaction. I am lucky it wasn’t worse.