By Steve Rust
In 1973 as a senior in high school, I had it made. I was making $1.10 per hour, gas was 18 to 25 cents a gallon and I lived at home with no bills to pay. Wow, those were the days.
At 18 I knew it all. I wrestled and played football and nothing could hurt me. When something bad happened, it was always to someone else. But not this time.
That Saturday morning my girlfriend and I went to meet her parents at the lake. While my car is climbing a hill, traveling 90 mph with me holding her hand, I heard a voice telling me to let go of her hand. But did I obey? Nope - I was 18, a good driver and indestructible. And, it always happens to someone else.
Well, at the top of the hill was a nearly 90-degree left turn and a vehicle pulling a boat was coming around the turn heading toward me in my lane. Now even a novice driver understands they need their entire lane to make a 90-degree turn at nearly 90 mph.
An important factor was about to come into play. A few weeks earlier, I put mags on all four wheels with extra wide rear tires. The rear tires were so wide they rubbed the inside of my fender wells so I added Monroe air shocks to raise the back end. When you raise the rear of the car, much of the weight is redistributed from the rear to the front giving you little-to no traction in the rear, which will cause your vehicle to fishtail while making sharp turns at high rates of speed.
Unfortunately, I did not know this until I started to turn to the left and began a rapid fishtail with the rear of my car sliding to the right. Remember, we were climbing a hill, so to my right was a 50-foot drop. So, I turned the steering wheel to the left as fast as I could and over-corrected heading straight into the hill on the left side of the road. I turned the steering wheel as fast as I could back to the right avoiding hitting the hill head on, but now we were traveling along the side of a hill that was steeper than 45 degrees. So we rolled over a couple times until my front bumper dug into the asphalt and caused my car to flip end over end a few times, landing on its wheels.
We hit the road with so much force, my left front Mag was broken and embedded four inches into the asphalt. I also had installed an 8-track (yes an 8-track) and four walnut-boxed speakers - two behind the back seat and two under the front seats. The speaker under the driver’s seat struck my face breaking my nose and cutting a vein under my left eye so every time my heart pumped, blood pumped out.
I am happy to say my girlfriend and I both survived. After our insurance adjuster looked at the car, he said it was a one in 4.8 million crash that both of us survived.
For the last 12 years, I have taught National Safety Council Defensive Driving Courses and I often discuss my crash to point out it wasn't one thing that I did wrong: it was a series of wrong moves. Don't alter your vehicle, don't speed, pay attention to your driving and, most importantly, KEEP trying to regain control of your car. Of all the wrong moves I made, trying to regain control was one thing that saved our lives.
Steve Rust is a Safety Coordinator with the Kansas Turnpike Authority