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Overconfident and Underprepared

Overconfident and Underprepared

2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division
Fort Cavazos, Texas

I’ve been driving since I was 16 years old. I’d like to think I’m a good driver with a safe driving record — barring the occasional speeding violation. The Army has provided me with very comprehensive driver training to make me aware of the hazards on the road. It took one of those lessons being reinforced the hard way for me to realize how important that training really is.

I was a young, overconfident and slightly arrogant warrant officer assigned to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York. Having grown up in the southwest, I was unfamiliar with winter driving, which can be an extremely harsh, eye-opening experience. As expected, given the region, winter driving dominated our safety discussions. Multiple driving awareness classes and training sessions were conducted to educate Soldiers such as myself on how to deal with the winter elements.

Like many others, I had an it-won’t-happen-to-me mentality. My car was reliable and I was so confident in my skills that I assumed only an idiot would get into trouble driving in winter conditions. I’d taken some advice and winterized my car, at least as far as I thought it needed to be. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite prepared for what was about to happen.

One weekend, I made an impulsive decision to travel 70 miles south to Syracuse. We’d had some heavy snowfall during the previous days and I took that into consideration. On this particular day, the weather was slightly clearer and warmer as I took off during the early afternoon for the hour-long drive. While there, I neglected to keep myself updated on the weather forecast. As the evening approached, the temperatures dropped significantly, creating icy conditions on the roads.

I was only about 10 minutes into my return trip to Fort Drum when it began to snow. I hadn’t considered the unpredictability of the lake-effect snowfall drivers often experience on Interstate 81 between Syracuse and Watertown. Recognizing the situation, I used some common sense and reverted to my driver training, slowing down significantly. Visibility went from moderate to poor as I continued traveling north at 30-35 mph with my hazard lights flashing. At that point, I should have stopped, but I felt confident in my ability to make it home.

I noticed another vehicle ahead of me, but I couldn’t determine the distance between us. As I started slowing, I realized the vehicle had stopped in the road. Instinctively, I hit the brakes. Going into a spin, I remembered my winter driving training and turned into the skid. This was the first time I ever actually had to do that, but it indeed assisted in stopping me before I went off the road.

My heart pounded in my throat. After I caught my breath again, I realized I’d spun 180 degrees and was now facing oncoming traffic. I could see headlights in front of me and quickly flashed my high beams to alert oncoming motorists. This bought me a little time as I waited for the traffic to pass before turning around to go in the right direction. I then proceeded to the next available exit, pulled off the highway to a safe location and waited about 40 minutes for the snow to subside. After that, I got onto the road and made it back safely. As I drove, I saw several drivers who hadn’t been as fortunate and slid off the road.

I will never forget that day and the problems I thought would never happen to me. Over the next couple of years, I saw many other drivers experience similar or worse situations. My overconfidence was the key factor that put me at risk that night. It led me to exercise poor judgment by trying to drive through dangerous winter weather. I could’ve easily waited out the weather in Syracuse or pulled off the road when the snow began. However, I let my overconfidence blind me to the risks that day.

Sometimes, we rely too much on our opinions of ourselves and our ability to make good decisions rather than viewing things objectively. Overconfidence can be a game changer, and you can’t always predict what direction things will go. I learned through this that patience is indeed a virtue. In fact, in regard to safety, being patient might just be the best way to avoid becoming a patient!

  • 26 November 2023
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 159
  • Comments: 0
Categories: Off-DutyPMV-4