We were driving to Rochester from New York City because I was going to write a blog post about visiting Rochester. We had to take a detour, and we drove along some quiet country roads. My 17-year-old son recently got his permit and said it would be a great opportunity for him to drive, because driving in NYC is stressful for experienced drivers, let alone a new driver.
After the driver switch, we cruised down the road. He was doing a great job and was a natural behind the driver’s seat. I was even getting more comfortable in the passenger seat while he maneuvered along the country roads. The directions stated there was a turn up ahead, and I assumed he heard the voice. His mind was focused on the road and not on the unfamiliar voice coming from the speaker. We drew closer to the turn, and I said, “Turn here.” And he did.
Looking back at what happened next, I wish I would have said, “Keep going straight and we’ll turn around.” It’s easy to look back on accidents and wish this happened or that happened. If I had a time machine, I would do so many things differently. Unfortunately, I can’t reverse time and can only move forward and learn lessons from my mistakes. In the seconds after the turn, costly mistakes rapidly occurred.
The turn was too fast, and the Sedona veered off the road and hit several corn stocks. I leaned over and grabbed the steering wheel with my left hand. A split second later, the front of the vehicle smashed into a tree. The windshield cracked as airbags slammed into the front seats. Powder and smoke drifted through the minivan as my 6-year-old daughter screamed and cried. My oldest leaped out of the driver’s seat and flung open the back door, pulling my youngest out of her car seat, and ran with her to a safe area. My 9-year-old son continued staring straight, and I yelled at him to run. He jumped out of the car and ran towards his siblings. My door was jammed, so I slid across the driver’s seat and out the door.
My daughter was sitting on the ground as her older brothers tried to calm her down. I sat beside her and laid her down on the grass and checked her scrapes and bruises. She had a long bruise where the seatbelt kept her safely in her car seat. I looked at her stomach and chest to see if there was any swelling while I called 911. A man who watched the accident from his front porch ran over to see if we needed help. As I spoke with 911, she instructed me what to look for with my daughter. The operator said help was on the way and I hung up the phone. I calmed my daughter down and checked out my 9-year-old son, who also had bruises from the seatbelt. Then, my eyes went to my oldest son, who was holding back a war of emotions. I put my arm around him and let him know everything was going to be okay and this was why we have insurance.
The first to arrive was a state trooper, followed by a volunteer fire department and paramedics. I had four conversations going at once while my major concerns were for my kids. The officer needed statements from me and my oldest. The paramedics needed information about my kids and needed to check everyone’s vitals. The fire department was making sure nobody was in further danger. A tow truck showed up and he too had questions and papers for me to sign. Realizing I needed to take photos for insurance reasons, I walked to the front of the car and took in the damage. My heart had one more reason to ache.
Growing up, my family didn’t have nice cars. My mom and I often laugh about some lemons we drove. There was the one time a steering wheel came off in my mother’s hands while we drove in an Oklahoma downpour. In another car, we had to tie strings around the windshield wipers and pulled them side to side during terrible weather. Several vehicles had gas gauges that didn’t work and you never knew how close we were to being on empty. And one car I drove, my foot touched both the gas pedal and the brake pedal at the same time and I had to push the pedals with the edge of my foot. While looking at the beautiful Kia Sedona that I was so proud to drive, I was crushed. The nicest vehicle I ever owned was totaled.
Next to the vehicle, I had final conversations with the tow truck and the fire department. The state patrol officer sat in his car and I climbed into the ambulance to sign more papers and to get my health status checked out. My ribs were bruised and the muscles in my rib cage and lat were pulled. My elbow was hyper-extended because of grabbing the steering wheel and the airbag. The paramedic had more questions and my heart was pounding. The paramedic stopped his questions and said, “Dad, it’s okay. Your family is okay. You’re going to be fine. I answer a lot of these calls and all too often, that’s not the case. I’ve seen some bad things.” I wanted to melt inside. I looked at my kids, each of them with a bruise, and I was thankful.
The Kia Sedona may have been the nicest thing I’ve ever owned, but it was a thing. What was inside the Sedona is what mattered. Every time I talk about the accident to someone, I share how thankful I am for seatbelts. Without seatbelts, my kids and I may not be here. Without good seatbelts, my kids and I might not be here. The belts immediately locked up and kept us from bouncing around the car. I’ll take those bruises across our bodies any day than what could’ve happened.
I’m also thankful for the beautiful vehicle I was so proud to own. When we were looking for a minivan to buy, the 5-star front-end crash rating was important, but it was a side conversation. The comfortable interior and the look of the car were the most talked-about aspects of the Sedona. That’s not what I’m thankful for now. I’m thankful for the Kia technicians and scientist that put their brainpower to work to make sure the vehicle that carried my precious family was safe after I made an unfortunate mistake.
After insurance was settled and we could buy another vehicle, there was one minivan at the top of our list to buy. One that is proven safe and meets our spacious needs.
And if you’re wondering what I would do differently if I could
- I would tell my son to go straight and that if you miss a turn, it’s not that big of a deal.
- I would not grab the steering wheel and let him get out of it. Maybe there were too many hands on the wheel. It’s hard to know for sure.
- I would practice more turns.
- I’m sure there are more, but those come to the front of my mind.