I was just like many summer travelers. I didn’t want to be cooped up in the car anymore and I was ready to be on the beach. The only thing that I could do to bide time until I reached my final destination was find ways to keep myself “entertained”, and try and get there as quickly as possible. I was checking my GPS religiously to check on my estimated time of arrival, talking and texting on my phone, fiddling with the radio to find the best station, and making sure to keep the windows at the right level to ensure I still looked my best. It didn’t seem like a big deal because we all do those things, right?
I mean, I didn’t think I was a bad driver. I was wearing my seat belt, keeping with the flow of traffic, and driving on the right to only pass on the left. That’s exactly what I was doing on that particular Friday on my way to Virginia. I was behind a van with kids in the back seat and their parents in the front. I wanted to pass them and had all those things going on in my car to keep me occupied on the long drive. Everything was going fine, but somehow I didn’t realize there was a tractor-trailer with a forklift attached to the back of it at a complete stop in the left hand lane. The truck driver didn’t realize that not too much further ahead there was a turning lane. He was too big to try and cross over to the rest stop on the other side so he waited in the left lane.
I had so many things going on, and accidents happen so fast that I don’t have a whole lot of memory immediately after or right before I made impact. But I did make impact. The first patrol officer got out of his car and was more than halfway to his trunk to pull the body bag when he heard my screams. He later told me that while he waited for emergency responders to arrive to get me out he did the only two things he could think of at the time. He called Life Line because he knew an ambulance wouldn’t get me there fast enough and he prayed. That day changed my life forever.
When I got to the hospital they put me in a medically-induced coma that I stayed in for about a week. It would take me over a year before I was able to fully walk again. I had to have over 20 surgeries that took longer than 2 years. Many of those surgeries were done to completely rebuild the right side of my face and I lost my right eye. I’m completely blind in one eye for the rest of my life and I have a continuous pain that never goes away. I live with these things and still have dental work that needs done. Even after they reconstructed my face repeatedly, it still doesn’t look the way it used to look. But I was a good driver, wasn’t I? I had done everything right. Or did I?
I didn’t realize it all at once, but eventually I would learn that the things I had been doing to keep myself occupied and entertained were considered driving distracted. Something that had just started to be talked about and very few listened to, myself included. One thing was clear to me though and that was most of the accident was my fault. I didn’t have anyone to blame but myself. There is a lot of anger and frustration that comes with realizing you don’t have anywhere to direct your hurt but on yourself. I started my path to both emotional and physical recovery. Somewhere along the way I decided the only way to make things better was to use my knowledge to save others.
I look back now at a 20- year-old girl, preoccupied with entertainment and fun but not the least bit concerned about the responsibility of driving. I know now that I am one of the luckiest people alive. The fact that I’m alive being one of the reasons why I’m so lucky. I didn’t have anyone else in the car with me and I didn’t kill anyone. I was in the military at the time of the accident and they covered my medical bills. I only crushed one side of my face and I wasn’t paralyzed. I hit the back of the tractor trailer and not the van. It’s because of these things that I remember and remind myself on a daily basis how unbelievably fortunate I am. Distracted driving is deadly and even when it isn’t, it’s still often tragic. When I tell people my story I don’t expect them to become perfect drivers. All I ask is that every time you get in your car you remember that you are taking yours and everyone else’s lives into your hands when you are on the road. Driving is a privilege and a responsibility that nobody should take lightly.
This post comes from Amanda Kloehr, who travels to schools, churches, businesses and other institutions to speak about distracted driving and the lessons she has learned during the recovery process. For more information, visit amandareconstructed.com.