By the time you read this, the true spirit of Thanksgiving may have completely yielded to the consumerism that seemingly takes over earlier every year. That’s not a complaint and I’m not trying to sound holier than thou; I concede that historically, I have looked at Thanksgiving as a time to see family and eat more than I should. But this year it meant more.
A week before Thanksgiving, we got the phone call—by the one person that eased the otherwise greater fear. My twenty-year-old daughter Ashley called and said she had been in an accident. It was a multi-car freeway crash during which her car rolled three times and landed 50 feet from the freeway. She’s ok. Somehow, she walked away from the incident, all bones intact and no noticeable injuries outside her increasing soreness as time passed.
So there we were at Thanksgiving dinner with me staring in a daze across the table at my daughter, still surprised she was there. I still don’t know what to make of it. Unfortunately for so many others, most 70 miles per hour multi-car crashes don’t end well. And to everyone who has lost someone tragically or naturally, my thoughts are genuinely with you. I don’t know how I would handle that loss. And this is why I’m so thankful.
This is not a session to say that anything I or she did was good, bad, right, wrong, or anything—either in her upbringing or during the incident. And I know that the first and second hundred commenters could legitimately point out things she or I “should have done.” While I’m sure you’d be right, I find sentences with “should” in them to be comically idealistic acknowledgements that what follows before the period is or was not controllable.
I think some of the good fortune was not coincidental, although I’m sure even more steps could have been taken and still met a poorer fate with such a crash. The choice of car, though, played a significant role. This is not an advertisement for her 2018 Subaru Crosstrek—modern BMWs are remarkably safe and have saved many lives in accidents, and if I had my choice, I would have used “my kid can drive now!” as an excuse to acquire another BMW. (In fact, the BMW X1 has the same overall and rollover NHTSA ratings as the Subaru Crosstrek.)
This might be a reluctant admission that my car accumulation habits should not extend to sticking my kids in the 80s and 90s cars that I keep appreciating and pursuing. She has driven most of my cars and it seems that when she’s driving them, she certainly has all hands on deck and is focused on driving. I’m all for her being attentive, but sometimes, it’s not just her attention that is critical to the whole driving ecosystem. I am now a firm believer that those safety ninnies in modern cars, about which so many of us have complained, make those models the proper cars for at least our teenagers’ daily driving.
This column was also not intended to be a promotion for the Tire Rack Street Survival program, but ALL teenagers should take that course. The instructors there will acknowledge they don’t expect participants to remember everything. I’m going to posit that even if a student retains 25-percent of what is covered, they will be more likely to survive the streets. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened here with Ashley. “I took Street Survival soon after getting my license,” she says, fortunately alive and able to recall it. “It sheds light on so much more about driving than we learn through the required classes. Some of it is what to anticipate and some of it is how to handle an out of control car. We don’t necessarily learn how to ‘hope’ during a rollover crash, but even things like paying attention differently would probably have helped me see this incident develop.”
One thing that I learned once she started driving was that as much as I appreciated the uniqueness and coolness of her first car—a 1991 Jeep XJ two-door manual-transmissionl Cherokee—it wasn’t the car for a young driver. She wouldn’t have been able to drive that car in the Street Survival program, but when National Program Director Bill Wade told me she should be in a safer car regardless, I’m glad I listened. I don’t know how her Subaru possibly held up during three rolls covering 50 feet, but it’s safe to say that the car and she would not have survived that in a 1991 Jeep Cherokee.
She was two hours into a six-hour drive back from college in Flagstaff, Arizona, heading home for the Thanksgiving weekend to Orange County, California. I had a bad vibe from the beginning; the route is Interstate 40 (yes, the same one that hits North Carolina), a frustrating two-lane each way trucker channel through the monotonous desert with a seemingly similar success rate of that of the covered-wagon travelers before it was even Route 66.
As she describes it, she was in the left lane traveling at about 70 behind a pick-up truck as they both were moving past an eighteen-wheeler on the right. The driver of the other car slowed to turn into the median (possibly initially from the right lane—unconfirmed), causing the pick-up truck to brake suddenly. My daughter applied the brakes and downshifted from sixth to fourth, but realized she was running out of room and the car behind her was closing quickly. She dipped left onto the shoulder and found the other car that had successfully completed his curious goal of getting to the median and made impact.
This isn’t to identify fault or whine about who did what. I wasn’t there and there will be time for that not in this forum. But I do know that we escaped tragedy and for that, I am thankful. Happy Thanksgiving. Mine is still going. —Kyle van Hoften