Cars We Remember: The Saga of Young Joe

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With more drivers on the road this holiday season than ever, it’s time for our yearly column on the dangers of drinking and driving. DUI arrests continue to be a major problem nationwide, and the following story is too often repeated over and over across the land.

This is the saga of young Joe, a fun loving 21-year-old who is full of life, has lots of friends and is a good person. He also has a beautiful muscle car, a 1966 Chevelle SS396, that he loves to drive. As Joe lives in a warm climate state, taking his car out during the holidays is a common occurrence.

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Joe could be your friend, son, sibling, parent or your husband. He’s having a great time at a holiday party, joining in on all the fun. He’s overdone the eating and drinking, something many of us do each year.

Now it’s 1 a.m., and time to head home. Joe knows he’s had one too many of the alcoholic beverages, but doesn’t feel it will impair his driving abilities. Thank goodness he’s alone in his Chevelle SS396.

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Joe isn’t aware that on this night, he’ll become one of the more than 32,000 drivers that die in car accidents every year.  Even though these numbers are the lowest since 1949, every 51 minutes an alcohol related fatality occurs somewhere in the United States, resulting in over 10,000 DUI fatalities annually. Further, his death will be recorded in the 25-percent group of impaired driving fatalities that occur between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.

The National  Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tracks all data available on alcohol related crashes and fatalities, and stresses that drunk driving is often a symptom of a larger problem: alcohol misuse and abuse. The organization also notes that  alcohol-impaired motor vehicle crashes cost more than an estimated $37 billion annually.

Recently, NHTSA has seen improvements in the way motorists behave on roadways and in the safety of the vehicles they drive. NHTSA’s 5-Star Safety Ratings Program and nationwide collaborations like ‘Click It or Ticket’ and ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over’ have key roles in making  roads safer.  Yet everyone must remember that with all the advances, more than 30,000 people die each year on the highway.

Back to Joe.

Joe is not aware he is speeding at 65-mph, and approaching a curve in the highway that should be taken at 35-mph. His reactions, meanwhile, have been slowed by the alcohol. Then, his cell phone rings and he’s further distracted.

Joe is going too fast to make the curve. To make matters worse, he also forgot to buckle his seatbelt when he left the party. Before Joe even knows what is happening, his car is off the dark country road and headed directly toward a huge tree. His 1966 Chevelle SS396 does not have airbags.

There is no correcting. Joe’s car hits the tree with a resounding crunch.

At 1/10th of a second, the car’s front bumper and grillwork collapse.

At 2/10ths of a second, the hood crumbles, rises, and smashes into the windshield. The grillwork now disintegrates.

At 3/10ths of a second Joe is sprung upright from his seat. His legs are immediately broken, and his knees crash against the dashboard. The steering wheel bends under his grip.

At 4/10ths of a second, the front of the car is completely destroyed and is now dead still. However, the rear end of the car is still traveling at 55-MPH, and the 850-lb. Chevy big-block engine and accessories are crunched into the tree.

At 5/10ths of a second, the impact rips Joe’s shoes clean off his feet. The chassis bends in the middle, and Joe’s head is slammed into the windshield. The car’s rear-end begins its downward fall as the spinning wheels churn into the ground.

At 6/10ths of a second, the entire body of the car is twisted out of shape and the front seat continues to ram forward.

At 7/10ths of a second, Joe’s chest is pinned against the steering wheel shaft. His internal organs crash against his rib cage.

At 8/10ths of a second, Joe is dead. He’s now a statistic.

If you plan to host a party this year over the holidays or for the Super Bowl or Daytona 500, remember these important facts: You can be held liable and prosecuted if someone you served alcohol to ends up in a drunk-driving crash; make sure all of your guests designate sober drivers in advance, or help arrange alternate transportation; stop serving alcohol at the end of the Super Bowl’s third quarter or at the 300-mile mark of the Daytona 500; have phone numbers for taxi cab companies available; and finally, have everyone put their keys into a large bowl when entering the party and then take away vehicle keys if they get intoxicated.

In summary, it’s not just young drivers like young Joe who die on our nation’s highways. Many adult drivers become statistics, too, from similar alcohol induced or distracted driving mistakes. Plan your travel carefully this holiday season, and never be in a hurry. If  roads turn nasty, pull off safely at a roadside rest stop or have a coffee at restaurant.

Finally, if you must stop your vehicle to rest, never pull off and park on the side of a road—it’s dangerous sitting there as the odds of being struck by an oncoming vehicle is very high.

Keep in mind that more deaths per mile traveled occur during holiday season. Have a safe 2014 Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc., and a safe New Year’s Eve.

Next week, we’ll look at distracted driving, and how driver phone texting is now a national driving nightmare.

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Greg Zyla

Greg Zyla