Be careful out there

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A photograph that appeared on the front page of the CCN's Midweek edition last Tuesday perfectly illustrated one of my greatest fears as a parent.

The picture showed a car overturned on Highway 62 just west of Green Forest. The driver was a young lady from Oak Grove, just 18 years old. Thankfully, she was not injured.

As the father of two sons, ages 17 and 22, I don't want to think about the risks that they (and all of us, for that matter) take when they get behind the wheel of an automobile.

That's not to say that my sons aren't good drivers (although my experience with them at the wheel is limited; I'll drive, thank you!), but the fact is that driving is inherently dangerous.

Every time we take the wheel, we are operating a piece of heavy equipment at high speed. So are all the other drivers on the road. As I've told my sons more than once, expect the other guy to make a mistake and be prepared for it. OK, maybe I've said that a million times. My point is, driving is dangerous for all of us.

Combine that inherent danger with youth, inexperience and the increased possibility of poor judgment, and it's just downright scary as a parent to think about what could happen.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I was once a young man just like my sons are today, and I wasn't immune from youth, inexperience and poor judgment.

A few months before my 21st birthday, I was driving an absolutely gorgeous new (to me) pickup truck no more than a mile and a half from home. To this day, I'm not sure exactly what happened. I'd like to think that a tire blew out, but I do know that I had looked down at something in the seat beside me just for an instant. When I looked up, I was drifting off the road, headed toward some trees.

I did what I suspect most young drivers would do in the same situation: I yanked the steering wheel back in the direction I wanted to go, hard. Too hard.

The truck rolled four times before coming to rest upright. I will never forget the sound of the engine screaming as the truck banged off the road over and over.

The truck was totaled. In fact, one of the paramedics who responded remarked on what a shame it was that such a beautiful truck was a complete loss.

I wasn't wearing a seat belt, yet somehow I survived. I can't say I was unscathed; my right foot was stuck in the steering wheel at a very odd angle. Without even thinking about it, I yanked it out and crawled out the back window into the bed of the truck. There was a 911 call, an ambulance ride and a trip to the hospital in Little Rock. I remember my parents meeting the ambulance at the hospital. They didn't know that I only had a broken foot, so they were worried and upset.

I was lucky. I was treated and released from the hospital within a few hours, spent a few days off work and within a couple of weeks my shiny red pickup truck had been replaced. As it worked out, my new ride was a four-door sedan, but I wasn't complaining.

I've never had another serious accident, although I did once back into someone in a parking lot and years later another pretty pickup truck had its front bumper knocked off when a nice lady turned in front of me. And while I rarely think about that day almost 25 years ago, I know how lucky I was to walk away without more serious injuries.

Thanks to the wonders of modern engineering, cars are much safer now than they were even back then. Still, driving is serious business. In 2014, 464 people were killed in traffic accidents in Arkansas.

So, if you're a young person reading this column -- or even if you're an older fellow like me -- please buckle up, put your cell phone down, pay attention and be careful.

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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers.