A Deafening Silence
NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
The “click” of a seat belt is a sound the average person hears every time they begin and end a trip in their vehicle. I’d guess most people routinely fasten their seat belt before or while starting their vehicle through muscle memory alone. However, when you’re not jumping into the driver’s seat and turning the ignition, that sequence is altered and this simple safety measure can be overlooked. I learned on a snowy December evening that failing to ensure everyone in the vehicle is taking safety into account by buckling up can be the difference between life and death.
Shortly after returning to the states from a deployment, my best friend and I took a road trip. The relaxing time off was just what I needed before signing in to my new unit. We had one final stop to visit a few more family members and friends before my leave ended. After nice dinner with my parents, we headed to my cousin’s house to attend a small holiday get-together.
When we arrived at the party, I parked my car and placed the keys out of reach since we’d be celebrating with a few alcoholic beverages. There was no way I was risking a drunk-driving arrest. Realizing there was a shortage of food and beverages, my cousin’s roommate volunteered to be the designated driver for quick trip to the store. There, we loaded up on supplies and jumped back into the truck. In hindsight, the absence of one of those familiar seat belt “clicks” upon reentering the vehicle should have been deafening.
As we returned to the party, the driver lost control of the truck on the snow-ice mixture and we veered off the road, sliding and skidding. He tried to react to the loss of control by countersteering to no avail. In the split second it takes a seat belt mechanism to engage, our lives flipped upside down. The left side of the truck cut through two telephone poles before we were launched into a violent rollover.
Upon regaining consciousness and exiting the vehicle, I realized I could barely see. Everything seemed to be in black and white. In a daze, I scanned the area for other survivors and found my best friend unresponsive on the ground. I then saw my cousin, who was lying in a pool of fuel, before I collapsed and lost consciousness again. When I awoke, I was in a hospital, where I was told my cousin and I were the only survivors.
This tragic — but preventable — accident was a very difficult lesson to learn. I did several things right that night. I didn’t get behind the wheel after drinking and I wore my seat belt when we made that fateful trip to the store for food and drinks. But I also failed. I didn’t ensure everyone else in the truck was buckled up. Unfortunately, it cost two people, including my best friend, their lives.