By Gretchen Gleue“I didn’t mean to. It was just an accident.”
Parents (and grandparents) hear this phrase all too often when a child unintentionally breaks something. We sweep up the pieces or if it was a sentimental memento we may try frantically to put it back together. Sometimes we’re lucky and it looks like nothing destructive happened.
If only it were the same with vehicles.
It was an early winter afternoon about 23 years ago, the kind where the gray skies and occasional mist hint that winter weather is on the way. We’d been home most of the day and realized we needed diapers before morning. We must have been restless and decided to go to the mega-grocery store so we could also check toy options for our young toddler.
The three of us took my car, my pride and joy. I’d ordered it new as personal achievement reward. I’d researched all the safety and performance stats before deciding on this model (even studying which colors had better visibility on the road). Anyone riding in my car had to use seat belts. I’d been buckled in since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. The toddler was strapped in a front-facing car seat.
As we passed the new mall, we noticed the parking lot was overflowing and traffic so bad that their security was directing traffic at the entry. We stopped at a traffic light a block later on the five-lane roadway which was experiencing rapid development. We were behind a two-door sports coupe. Then out of nowhere, our heads were jerked forward and back, accompanied by the sound of what seemed like Big Foot crushing a trash can. I remember the toddler asking, ‘What was that?’ and that I quickly checked each of us. The sports coupe driver got out, checked his rear bumper, shouted it didn’t look like it was damaged and then left the scene.
The same couldn’t be said from my car. I didn’t see the damage until the officers arrived. We’d stayed bundled up in the car. The officer tried to open the rear driver’s side door to get our toddler from the car seat, but the door was jammed. The driver door was also jammed. My husband’s back was sore so they insisted he go to the hospital by ambulance. A tow truck driver dropped my totaled car at a repair lot and then drove the toddler and me home. He couldn’t buckle in the car seat, but tried to assure me. “Lightning doesn’t strike twice.” “Nothing’s gonna hurt you in this big rig.”
We learned the blue sedan was driven by a teenager from central Kansas who had come to town with her friend to Christmas shop. She was driving her grandpa’s car. He lived in Colby. She admitted she hadn’t noticed that we’d all stopped. She was distracted by the ‘cute guy directing traffic.’ Officials estimate she hit my car at 40 mph – the posted speed limit.
This wasn’t the first or last time my life was impacted by a distracted driver. It has made me the parent who always reminds her kids that they may be safe drivers, but “you never know when the other driver isn’t paying attention or will use poor judgment until it’s too late.”
Gretchen Gleue is a Program Consultant in the Traffic Safety Section for the Kansas Department of Transportation