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A Killer Under Our Control

By: SSgt Dudley C. Riner Jr.

Date Posted: 2000-04-08

I was out with my wife and 2 daughters on a quiet Saturday night at a Remote-controlled Car (RC) raceway. I didn't own an RC, but several of my friends from work raced them on the weekends. We were having a wonderful time watching my friends compete with one another as they raced the miniature cars, consistently pushing them to their limits on the racetrack. It was a normal evening - until my First Sergeant stepped inside wearing his BDUs. I could tell by his expression that something very serious had happened. He approached me and asked me to step outside with him. My mind raced as I followed him out to the parking lot where my squadron commander and the base chaplain met me. I couldn't imagine what could have happened that my supervisors would have to look me up on a weekend. My blood ran cold as my commander took me by the hand. He spoke with heartfelt sincerity as he told me that my mother, only brother, and sister-in-law had been killed several hours earlier when my brother's car collided with a semi-tractor trailer.

That happened nearly 2 years ago on March 23, 1996. I've begun to recover from that night's shock with the help of several Air Force chaplains and close friends. I remember saying, "No!" over and over again as I struggled to accept the fact that my family was gone. I knew "how," but I wondered "why" the accident happened. The answer may be something that each of us needs to take seriously ... poor driving habits.

Every year, there are 83,000 vehicle accidents in the United States, and 43,000 people die in them. Most deaths could be prevented if drivers would just take a few moments to respect the power of inertia. An automobile is capable of inflicting tremendous physical damage. A car accident not only has the capability of destroying physical property, but it can sever precious family ties as well.

I believe my brother didn't realize that his 1984 Subaru hatchback could become a killer because he disregarded his seat belt. Nobody in the car, not even the children, was wearing a seat belt. The vehicle was estimated to be moving at 65 miles per hour (10 miles per hour over the speed limit). The momentum of the impact was equivalent to the destructive power of falling from a height of nearly 7 stories. Another unsafe condition leading to the accident was the car's maximum occupancy had been exceeded. The car was designed to hold four individuals, but three adults and three children were crammed into it.

The actual catalyst of the car's unexplained veering to the left was never officially exposed; but allegedly, the semi-truck driver saw a child moving from the back seat to the front. The driver stated that my brother was turned towards the rear seat (with one hand on the steering wheel) which caused him to accidentally veer the car to the left - into the path of the oncoming truck. They collided with enough force to rip the rear axle off the truck's trailer. It is a miracle that my three nephews survived.

My brother had served 4 years in the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg NC and was in the Gulf War. I'm sure that he considered facing the Iraqi Army a real danger; but like all of us, he may have taken the destructive power of his automobile for granted. The continuing success of our military mission depends directly on our ability to make sound decisions - on and off duty - about our personal safety.

If someone is injured in a car accident, they may not be able to uphold their duties they have sworn to fulfill. All injuries directly impact personal readiness and our ability to mobilize worldwide. Whether it's in peacetime or during war, our country needs us to be fully operational so we can give our all. We need to be aware of how dangerous automobiles can be and then learn how to prevent accidents from occurring.

Prevention begins with our individual awareness. Don't take your car for granted. Keep it in good running order - not just for your own safety, but for the safety of others. My brother's Subaru had rack-and-pinion steering badly in need of repair. I had driven the car 2 weeks before the accident, and I noticed I could turn the steering wheel half a turn before the worn teeth of the steering gear would engage and turn the car. My brother continued to drive the car, although the vehicle was unfit for highway use. That worn steering gear may have contributed to the accident, but it only played a minor role in comparison to my brother's attitude toward driving safety.

A careless attitude toward driving safety is more dangerous than a single worn part. We should have a deep respect for the incredible power of momentum. A bird might as well be a brick to a fast-moving jet aircraft. A single bird can totally destroy a jet engine or tear a hole in an aircraft's fuselage or windscreen. My brother and his wife were killed instantly when their car hit the rear axle of the truck's trailer. The sheer power of inertia is a terrible force to contend with in a collision. It is a killer force that we have to respect, and that respect should include several sound driving practices.

· Always wear your seat belt. It's the law, and it is required on all military installations.
· Don't drive when you are fatigued.
· Concentrate on driving safely. Don't do other distracting activities while driving, like fiddling with the radio or disciplining children.
· Adhere to the maximum occupancy for your vehicle design.
· Whenever possible, put children in the back seat of your car; place infants (up to 6 months old) in car seats facing to the rear, and always use child safety seats.
· Observe the speed limit, and adjust your driving as appropriate for hazardous road conditions.
· Drive defensively.
· Never drive if you are impaired by medicine or alcohol.

By following these rules as we drive, we can protect ourselves, our family, our military mission, and others who are on the roads. Unlike those remote-controlled cars I was watching on that fateful night, real car crashes have serious consequences. My tragic loss has shaken me into a new awareness for driving safety. I don't blame my brother for the accident. In my mind, he fell prey to an unsafe driving attitude that we all have experienced at one time or another. I hope my words hold some meaning for each of you so that together we can reduce the number of traffic fatalities in the United States.

The last thing my mother said to me was, "I love hearing the sound of your voice"; and now because of a killer force that we have the ability to control, I will never hear her sweet voice again. Please drive safely.

They’ll grow older
And yet
The battles
That are waiting
Divorce, Decision, Digress
From the funerals
Into weddings
And pregnancy.
How to fight the battles
Is never as important
As what to do
tomorrow morning
after the death
after the pain
after the knowing
showing the world
‘what’ you’re made of
Adultery, tragedy,
So sad you see
But not hopeless
You survive
God knows how
A part of you dies
And yet you lift
Your head up
Somehow…
You obsess in times
you should be sleeping
You hold onto morals
You feel are creeping
Away from your
Fingers
Faith? Hope?
They linger
Silently, they never
Answer out loud,
That would prove
They are real, without
A doubt
You win, you lose
You fight
The battles
And like Webster’s
They define, who
And what, you
Really are
And as you climb
That lifelong slope
Custody battles, child support
You learn to cope
With being on your ‘own’
Somewhere you know
There’s the goal
You’ve always wanted
And you go on
Up out of bed
Get it into your head
That tomorrow is
Another day, somehow
Somewhere, you’ll make
A way for your kids
To be happy
Really happy
And as they wake
Up from their naps
And trade nightgowns
Into graduate caps
They’ll appreciate you
And they’ll tell tomorrow
That you fought the battles
And that you won..

Copr. 1998 by Carter Riner

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