See that car? I was in there.
Not pretty, right? Yeah, it wasn’t all that pretty before the accident, either. But that’s still one of the best-case scenarios that can happen when you meet black ice while driving with the flow of traffic on the highway.
Like many 20-something-year-olds, I drove with the ego of the invincible.
I had read all the statistics, heard all the warnings, drove past all the pile-ups and looked into the eyes of crash survivors through digital screens with a singular thought, “Wow, that’s terrible, but hey, it wasn’t me.”
Until it was.
As I write this, I recognize the inevitable; that somewhere, some reader will not absorb these words. Somehow, someone will think just like I did, no matter how much I type. For most, this is a call into the void. And yet, I’ll march deliberately ahead with my warning, because even if it saves just one life, then the words were not in vain.
Because my message is for those wiser than I: black ice is serious. It exists, and it is likely to hurt you.
In fact, the Federal Highway Administration reports more than 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured in vehicle crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement annually.
To put things in perspective, that means an average of 13 people are hurt every hour and 4 people die every day to these kinds of road conditions.
Now, I was incredibly blessed.
But let’s remove the rose-colored lens that memory prescribes us, and I’ll tell you what happened.
On my way to work in early February, my car spun out across both lanes on I-44 in snowy and mixed precipitation conditions.
A driver ahead of me in the left lane pumped the brakes, and although I was about four car lengths behind them, even easing on the brakes caused my car to lose total control. I found myself skidding sideways across into the right lane, and knew I would have to get to the shoulder to slow down and avoid oncoming cars.
The metal rails and wire ripped off the driver’s side of the car and broke the axle, but it spared me.
Even though I avoided becoming a statistic — I walked away from the crash without a scratch and managed to avoid all other automobiles on the road — I still had a totaled car with only liability coverage.
I fought back tears unsuccessfully in the passenger side of a tow truck, not because I was given a new lease on life, but because I was barely getting by financially as it was.
It was far from a luxury ride, but I owned that car. I don’t make a lot of money. I don’t have a family to fall back on for loan support. And I’m young; my mother purchased that car for me when I was 16, but she’s gone, and I had never before bought a car in my life.
“What am I going to do?” left my lips and entered my ears in a vicious loop.
“For your own sake and those of your loved ones, have some perspective about where you’re going if there is inclement weather. Being late for work won’t be an issue if you’re motionless on the side of the freeway.”
Yet, somehow, I survived. That’s something more than 1,300 people a year can’t say, God rest their souls.
My point is to tell you this: even if you do defy the odds, even if you do manage the impossible, even if you hit ice on the highway only to receive unimaginable grace — or luck, depending on what you believe — you’re still going to have to deal with burdens, be them financial, psychological or the reality check that comes from having to ask for rides from coworkers until you buy another vehicle.
As for the moral takeaways?
For weeks afterward, I replayed that scene in my head over and over again at lightspeed — the same speed at which my life could have ended. I still get flashbacks from time to time.
Never take any hour, any moment, any laugh or any tear for granted. It could end in a determined breath’s time. Tell your loved ones how much they mean to you while you can.
And for your own sake and those of your loved ones, have some perspective about where you’re going if there is inclement weather. Being late for work won’t be an issue if you’re motionless on the side of the freeway.
Drive safe, and if safe isn’t possible, don’t drive at all.
To read more about how to combat black ice, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd488148.pdf.