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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Panic- Don't Do It Behind the Wheel!
One of the happiest days of my life was the day I got my drivers license at 16 years of age. I had practically lived on a bicycle before in the preceding years and was so eager to have the freedom to drive. My buddy and I were young teenage car fanatics and couldn’t wait to get on the road.
The first time I took my road test, being was so eager to get it over with, I was flunked for speeding! My father had brought me over to take the test and let me use the family car, a 1957 Chrysler New Yorker. He was definitely not amused and told me on the way home that if I flunked the next road test, I would be waiting until 18 before trying it again! After the mandatory wait, I took the road test again in a week or two and passed.
So that’s how my lifetime of driving adventure began. Slowly, my parents allowed me more freedom and I got to use the car more frequently. I got my license in early November, as winter was beginning to set in. One day, I had my buddy, Tom and brother, Russ in the car and we were going somewhere. It had been snowing lightly and the streets were beginning to get a little slippery. Although I didn’t have much experience driving on snow, my mother had taken my brother and I a couple of times late at night when there was a fresh, snow covered store parking lot and (after the store closed) let us take turns sliding the car around in the snow to get the feel of how it handled. Since then, I’ve always thought that a driver training program for new drivers should always include some kind of skid pad experience. That would definitely be of help for young drivers but, as I found out, not a guarantee of staying accident free.
Being still immature and overconfident (also trying to impress my passengers), I was driving down the street going a little fast for the prevailing conditions. As we approached a stop sign to make a right turn, there was a vehicle in front of us stopped at the sign. After applying the brakes to stop, the wheels locked up and we were sliding straight for the vehicle ahead. I had neglected to see that there was a stretch of ice underneath us coming up to the stop sign. My foot was jammed on the brake pedal as were sliding closer and closer, about to have a collision. My first reaction was panic, as I jammed on that brake pedal for all it was worth. Thankfully I had a second or two to think and realize what I was doing was not working. I was trying to steer around the car in front, but because the brakes had the steer tires locked up, the car would not turn. I forced myself to let off the brakes and steered the car right around the vehicle, coming to a stop just past the sign, looking quite foolish and very embarrassed, but at least I hadn’t hit the guy!
Because of that extra second to think and react, it taught me a lifelong lesson. Since that day (now 43 years later), I have never panicked while behind the wheel, no matter what situation I have been in. I don’t know if there’s a way to teach someone this, but I think skid pad training and experience handling an out of control vehicle would certainly help.
See last week’s post “Slow Motion Terror Ride with Art” (7/21/2012) for a related experience with another driver.

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