I have been thinking lately about car crashes. Specifically, I have been pondering car accidents involving me. My truck was rear-ended Tuesday, and I decided it was time to write about this. For the record, I am fine and my truck is fine, which is more than I can say for the car of the guy who caused the accident or the car of the woman he hit, who then hit my truck.
I have reached two conclusions. The first, that I have come out against car crashes involving me, is no surprise.
But it's the second conclusion – why I don't like them – that has been occupying my thoughts.
No, it's not the obvious, materialistic reason: that I don't want my car damaged. This is not to say I want my truck destroyed. I have been driving my present truck ever since its predecessor, the original Butkimobile, was totaled in a rainstorm shortly after I moved to Arkansas. But no, that’s not my biggest beef with crashes.
And, no, it's not because I might be inconvenienced by a car crash. The first one caused sciatic nerve problems, left me without a working vehicle in a state where I knew nobody, and made me choose a new truck – the present Butkimobile – in a matter of hours. But that is not my biggest objection.
No, my biggest objection involves control. When driving I like to think I am in control of the vehicle. It is a false sense of security and control, but it still exists.
When struck by another vehicle, or when I lose traction in the rain, I lose that sense of control.
When my car slides on the road, be it from snow or rain, I feel that loss of control and fret. I never really thought that I had issues about control and power, but when it comes to driving, I guess I do.
My journal from May 1997
The car hydroplaned, spun like a top and flipped.
I felt like I was in a dream watching as my life was suddenly under the control of a car which was itself uncontrollable.
The car stopped on its roof and my first thought was: "why is my tape player still playing? Maybe things are ok if the stereo still works."
The next realization was it's kind of tricky to get out of a car when it's upside down.
As I got out people were running up to me saying,” We thought you'd be dead!"
I picked up one of the tapes and dropped it and instead of falling to what would have been the floor it instead fell to what was previously the roof. That’s when I snapped out of it and got out of the car.
From the journal entry I wrote right after the accident.
Reading over that, I am struck by something I find interesting: My focus on the car stereo.
When my truck was hit Tuesday at a red light my car stereo popped out of its case. My first response to the car accident was not to get out and check the condition of my car. It was not to check out the condition of the car behind me. No, my first reaction was to push the car stereo back into its case and press play. It worked and music filled the car. Only then did I turn off the car and get out.
It made me wonder: Why did I have that reaction, that focus on the car stereo, in both accidents, almost ten years apart?
The answer, I think, is that while I could not control what had just happened or how badly damaged the cars or the people involved were, I could control the car stereo and what plays on it. Strange as it may seem, finding the car stereo still operational and knowing I could still control it gave me comfort.
For a few years after that accident I would avoid, whenever possible, driving in snow. It would remind me of that incident, and I did not want to be reminded of that loss of traction, that loss of control.
But I gradually realized I was letting the fear win. And the only way I'd ever become comfortable driving in snow is to just keep on trucking, as the saying goes, and the longer I do it without incident the less the fear.
But there was one difference between driving in snow and driving with regular traction. When I would drive in snow I would turn off the radio because I viewed it as another distraction.
I wonder now if that too was a way of exercising the limited amount of control I had on the car. I could not easily control the car on snow but I could control whether or not the music was playing on the stereo.
There is much we can’t control in this world. Car accidents serve as a terrible but effective way to put our lives in perspective.
In my case it also made me come to grips with three facts: I don’t want to have any more accidents, I care way too much about my car stereo, and I think I have finally conquered my fear of driving in rain and snow.