A Car Accident Can Change Your Life In a Flash

I witnessed a horrible car accident and I'll never see things the same again. But the lives of those involved? Changed forever. Slowing down is a good idea, but is it enough?

Safest Cars
This crashed Honda HRV is among the Safest Cars

Take a Breath, and Slow Down.

I have to share something devastating.

Just the other day I witnessed a car accident with multiple fatalities. It was horrific; it unfolded right in front of my eyes. I was driving home on a stretch of I-35 between Waco, TX and Austin. A Jeep two cars ahead of me stopped suddenly; the Acura in front of me barely avoided hitting the Jeep. I swerved onto the shoulder near the highway median to avoid hitting the Acura.

I took a moment to process, then saw the driver of the Jeep, a suburban dad, pull his kids out of the car. He quickly assisted them from the Jeep, put their hands over their eyes and sat them with their backs against the concrete highway barrier.

Just as quickly, two men hopped over the median from the other side of the highway to help the Jeep driver. I turned to look at the other side of the highway; traffic was at a standstill. Just to my left was a pickup truck accordioned into a mangled, crushed ball. It was almost unrecognizable. A tractor-trailer had pulled off along the side of the road. Traffic lined up behind the accident for miles.

Related: Do You Need to Replace Child Car Seats After an Accident?
Car Accident. Photo: Matt C Via Unsplash

Of Course, in a Car Accident Call 911 First

This had just unfolded, so I called 911. “Are you calling about a person hit on I-35?” the operator asked. “Yes,” I said, even though I still didn’t really understand all that had happened. “We are on the way,” she said. There were hundreds of cars stopped on both sides of the highway with a view of both accidents. I had to guess the emergency service line was flooded with calls.

As I called, I watched the children sitting along the barrier. I could see their shoulders shaking in shock and grief. Even inside the car I could hear them cry.

Still partially in the median, I got out of my car and approached one of the men. “Can I help?” I could see the arm of a man splayed on the pavement in front of the Jeep. The driver of the Jeep paced along the side of his car, shoulders hunched, on his phone.

“No,” the man said. “He’s dead.”

Related: Volvo’s Safe Driving Tips to Reduce Car Crash Deaths and Serious Injuries to Zero by 2020

Get As Much Information As Possible. Photol Pixabay

Get as much information as possible. PhotoL Pixabay

As a Witness, Your Life is Changed, Too

I finally understood; a man had crossed the highway barrier and into the path of the Jeep. Traffic was traveling at 75 MPH; it was about 7PM, dry and sunny. I could see steam rising from the front of the Jeep from the impact.

“No, I mean, can I help the children,” I said. But there really wasn’t  much I could do, as much as I wanted to help. This was a job for people experienced in accident assistance and grief counseling. They would be there soon.

One of the older children had his arm around the shaking shoulders of a younger girl. Their crying grew into louder, wrenching shudders.

The sound still rings in my ears. That’s a sound you never want to hear from children.

A man lost his life. And surely, so did a second person on the other side of the highway – there is no way anyone could have survived the crushed pickup truck.

Related: Child Passenger Safety Week: It’s Not Just About Kids Car Seats

Safest Cars

This crashed Honda HRV shows how passengers can be protected in a crash. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Trauma Changes Your Life

In a flash, this family’s life was whisked into an existence of trauma, nightmares and fear, their lives changed forever. None of us will ever be the same.

I drove the rest of the 100 miles home with my hands steady on the wheel, my eyes focused on the road and cars ahead of me. I passed several more accidents; in one instance, all the car’s airbags had deployed; the other caused such a backup that Google maps routed me around it.

Airbags Are One Of The Key Car Safety Features.

Photo: Pixabay

There Are Just Too Many Car Accidents and Crashes

Seeking an explanation of what had happened, I searched police and news reports, but found little. A man had tried to cross the highway and was struck and killed. It was a single sentence among hundreds of reports of fatal accidents in Texas over the prior few months. Too many to sort, too many to detail, too few media to ask questions and tell the story.

Of course, the car accident I witnessed was not the driver’s fault, nor the fault of any of the drivers on the highway that evening; it was a freak thing. But it still grounds your view, dampens your joy, changes your life. You find yourself crying for no reason.

Cadillac Xt6. Photo: Jill Robbins

Photo: Jill Robbins

Be Kind; Be Human

Though the weekend, I’ve watched families as they walk through the grocery store, mothers, pulling their children back from the intersection of the aisles to make sure they don’t get hit by an oncoming cart.

I’ve watch fathers push their babies in strollers through stores. Parents walking their toddlers through the children’s garden at a local coffee shop. The sound of children laughing and giggling on the playground makes me smile. So do families singing along to their favorite songs in their car.

I’ve tried to fill in the holes in my soul with these views. To appreciate these families just living their lives, happily.

Car Seats Are So Easy. Photo: Jill Robbins

Car seats are so easy. Photo: Jill Robbins

Life is Precious. Cherish It

As I see these families, I take a breath. Life is so precious and so tenuous. And every time we put ourselves in a hulking mass of steel and electronics and hurtle it down the road, life becomes even more tenuous and more precious. It’s not just our lives but those of all of those around us that could potentially change in a flash.

So please take a breath. Think about those around you – those you love and those you don’t know. Slow down, be kind, and be safe. 

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Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss