Last summer I had a genuine scare. I was driving to see a client out on a rural southeast Ohio backroad with a 55 mile an hour speed limit. It was early afternoon and the weather was nice with some sunshine and clouds. As I crested a rise in the road, time slowed way down. I had only 3 to 4 car lengths distance to a heavy semi-based trash collection truck that was barreling up the hill toward me in the exact center of the narrow road. You see, I had a chance. From the collective experience of driving for over 30 years, to the tune of some million and a half to two million miles, I had stacked the deck should something like this happen. Indeed, I had imagined it happening hundreds of times. As I saw that I was approaching a “blind” hill I had steered far over to my right, with my passenger side tires nearly in the grass . Now with maybe one half second to take action, my mind barked out orders to my body. I steered violently to the right, imagining any stationary obstacle to be better than the one coming at me at 48 miles an hour. I was careful not to oversteer or overcorrect, knowing that most people who go off-roading unintentionally get into trouble when they lose control by oversteering/overcorrecting. Amazingly, I hit no mailboxes on my way to being ramped up in the air by a driveway with earth sloped downhill on either side of it. My car seemed to hang in the air for ten seconds, but in reality, was probably just a second or so. I landed with both passenger tires in the grass of someone’s front yard and steered back onto the road as I braked. I pulled into the next driveway and took a few deep breaths. I walked around my car, then over to the front yard I had passed through. No marks, no missing lamp posts, no barking dogs. Just quiet. If anyone had seen what happened, they never came out of their houses or spoke up as I walked around. I went back on my way.
This real-life event highlights something called “defensive driving.” I am not sure when this concept got its start. But it’s aimed at helping people cope while sharing the road in a time where drivers are distracted with texting and phone conversations among other things. One of the main tenets of this idea is to expect the unexpected from your fellow driver, like the trash truck being in the center of the road cresting a hill. Another is to actively leaving room in front of your car in case there is a panic brake situation involving the car in front of you. And anyone who drives regularly has had someone pull out in front of them without warning. The trick is to expect it and already have a plan.
Written by Ken Kitchen for HRC Insurance Services