Originally published May 2013.
Most of us have probably seen the car commercial where the father gives his toddler daughter some last minute tips before she drives off on her own for the first time. “Check your mirrors, no highways, no texting while driving, be careful, call me but not while you’re driving,” he says. Of course, only the father sees his baby girl as a toddler because she is, in fact, a teenager, but what parent doesn’t still see the toddler inside of their teenager?
The commercial resonated with me. We can tell our loved ones to be safe one million times, but in the end we have to let go, say goodbye and hope they never come face-to-face with danger on the roads. But the road is a crazy place, full of people talking and texting on cell phones, checking Facebook, reaching for something in their backseat, eating while steering with a knee or two, putting on makeup, and driving too fast.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 34,080 motor vehicle fatalities in 2012. I think we can all agree this unnecessary and preventable loss of life is way too high. Dave Barry wrote, “The one thing that unites all human beings…is that deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” We trust ourselves and blatantly ignore our own bad driving habits, and can be quick to blame other drivers for unsafe circumstances. As a society, we often believe we are invincible, the masters of our own destiny, and completely convinced that those terrible accidents we hear about could never possibly happen to us.
I am here to tell you that it can.
On October 9, 2011, I got that phone call. The one we hope to never get, the one that causes your life to crumble. That night was the worst night of my life, an unimaginable hell that I would not wish on my worst enemy. My fiancé Zach’s best friend came to town to spend the night at our house and watch some football. The three of us spent some time together, but I was suffering from a brutal migraine. Zach tucked me into bed and went with Rob to a friend’s house that was just two minutes down the road we lived on. After an hour, they left to return home. They never made it.
This is a story of two beautiful lives brought to a tragic end by no seatbelts, rain, a dangerous curve and speeding. Individually these factors might not add up to an accident, but combined they made for tragedy. And if it weren’t for a migraine, it was a tragedy that might also have claimed me.
I want to ask everyone to take the utmost care while out on the roads and driving the cars we trust so much, because overlooking even the smallest safety factors are often what leads to tragedy. This accident has left me, both of our families, all of our friends, the entire community and education system shell-shocked, hurting, lost, and grieving. This is an accident that could have been prevented… if only.
Sitting down to write these words was unfathomably hard for me, because I live with this grief every single day. I would give anything to undo that night, to get back my fiancé, to have never lost. But I write about his accident because I know it is what Zach would want me to do. He would want me to share my story, to use my writing and my words to share with others the risks they take if they don’t respect the road and the vehicle they use to travel down it.
I write to caution you to take care with your safety each and every time you drive your own car.
So when you hear yourself think, “It’s only a mile down the road, I don’t need my seatbelt,” or “The roads are slick, but my car can handle it,” or even “A car accident would never happen to me,” please understand that it can happen to you or someone you love. Cars are big, heavy, powerful machines, and someone who loves you is counting on you to take every measure of safety when you get behind the wheel of one. If you don’t, it could change your entire life, and the life of people you love, in a blink of an eye.
Let my cautionary tale speak volumes to you. Wear your seatbelt. Slow down in bad weather. Don’t trust your car to handle speed on slick roads. Know that no one is immune to an accident. Act now and talk to your loved ones about safe driving. Talk about seat belts and bad weather and speeding. Talk about respecting the road. And from the bottom of this broken heart of mine, I beg you to respect the life you have been given. Cherish it with every action you make, every word you speak, and every moment you are blessed to live one more.
Krista Brenner is a Canadian girl who met an American boy in Costa Rica and fell in love. When that boy, Zach, died in a car accident, Krista began to write about her life and her loss. You can read more of her work on her blog.