A Series of Wrong Moves

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


  1. Kristi Pyle10/09/2012

    Steve, Thank you so much for sharing your story, I'm thankful that you both escaped serious injury. In my driving years, I've had a number of close calls where I make a series of mistakes, but one thing or another went right, and I didn't crash. But I always come out of it wondering What if...? And each time I made a change to my routine driving behavior so that now I do much of what you recommend: I drive slower, I pay attention to the road, and I keep my hands on the wheel. I also try to anticipate problems on the road ahead of me: what if...a child runs in the road? ...the car in front of me has to stop fast? ...one of my front tires blows out? These 'what if' games help keep me alert. Thank you again for sharing your story, and I hope that folks reading it will take it to heart.

  2. Kirk Hutchinson10/09/2012

    Important lessons, if we'll only listen and learn. I've preached many of these same lessons to my children; unfortunately many of us are experiential learners and we have to learn the hard way. Glad that your lesson wasn't fatal. Thanks, Steve, for sharing your story.

  3. Steve,I am willing to bet all of us were a lot more fearless at that age. It is a miracle we survive our teens. Unfortunately not all young, and not so young people, do escape with their lives in that type of situation. You, no doubt, look at life differently as a result of your nearly fatal experience. You undoubtedly feel blessed and I'm glad you have been able to share your lesson as you touch other people with your safety message.

  4. Anonymous10/10/2012

    WOW. That was quite a ride.
    My lesson in invulnerability at about that age didn't even scratch a fender, but had the same heart-thumping effect... it was quite educational. One of the other mistakes that young drivers make is that they should slow down - waaaay down when there is fresh moisture on a road which has been long dry.

    My adventure involved a couple of 360s on the Highway 1 road segment (California) knwon as Devils Slide... Its windy and very steep on both sides, cliff up and cliff down. There is nothing between the road and a 1100 foot sheer drop to the ocean except a very low earthen berm. It only slowed down cars already going real slow. We weren't. Taking curves at 3 am in a light drizzle, at a rate of speed which was fine at say 3 pm in the afternoon ended in near disaster. I had a handprint bruise on my right thigh were the poor schlub in the middle held on for dear life as I swung the wheel trying to regain control. I did, and we survived but it was close and quite educational. My pal riding shotgun had a matching handprint on her left thigh and for some reason the boy in the middle didn't wanna go up to Pacifica for pancakes after midnight anymore. Keep sharing that story - it one many folks need to hear. You are dead right its sometimes the little lucky and skillful things we do that make the difference between survival with or without damages and disasster.