Don't invite 'Death' along on your family trip

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace
  • 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Imagine Death creeping up on your mini-van as your family heads to Boise to do a little Christmas shopping.

The only sound heard over the rumble of crackling ice is that of your children in the back seat, screaming as they watch their lives flash before their eyes. Spinning out of control, you frantically pump your breaks and crank the steering wheel. But, like death beckoning you, a rusty bridge railing gets closer by the second.

Between the children's screams, blurred visions through an icy windshield and panic-induced rushes of adrenaline, you strive to make sense of what is happening. All at once, everything is clear and you know what to do. You begin to turn into your spin.

Then fate's watch ticks one last time. Your car smashes through the metal railing and you nose-dive into the river below. Now everything is cold and black.

Is this what you wanted for Christmas?

I was raised in Southern California. Until I moved to Denver at age 13, I had only seen snow once or twice. For my parents, who also grew up in Los Angeles, driving in the snow took work as they strove to perfect the 'art' of it.

I vividly remember our first February in Denver. My father, brothers and I were driving in his truck on a highway, heading north out of the city. As my father carelessly drove along, he hit a patch of black ice.

Fortunately, he was not driving fast. Still, when we hit the ice, he made the novice mistake of pressing his foot down hard on the brake pedal. A moment later, we were slowly spinning in a circle - still moving north on the highway.

As we spun the first 90 degrees, I noticed an old woman looking at me bewildered - like a kitten watching a ball of string for the first time.

The truck continued to spin, and I was looking directly at a man driving the vehicle behind me. I could see his Denver Broncos jacket as clear as day, and the 'Broncos 7' in his window let me know instantly that he was a John Elway fan.

He covered his mouth as if he was in shock - not at another failed Super Bowl attempt, but from bearing witness to an almost certain and imminent accident.

We continued to spin. In fact, I recall making three-full circles before, through a stroke of good fortune, ending up facing north again - still moving in the correct direction.

Miraculously, we made it through the incident without harm or even a fender bender. Nonetheless, in some way we were all changed by our close encounter with death on that Denver highway. I know from that day forth, I pay close attention to the way I drive in winter and am certain my brothers do too.

You see, whether you're from an area that receives several inches of snow each year or an area that never snows, while you're stationed here at Mountain Home Air Force Base, you will encounter driving in winter conditions very unique to the region. So those of you from Boston, Montana or another 'wintery' region, check your ego at the door because out here, you may as well hail from California like we did. If not, fate's watch may be ticking for you!

Here's the bottom line folks, I survived a near winter-related tragedy and hope you heed my message this season. But if you're a naysayer, rest knowing you don't merely have to take my word on this. Listen to what the professionals have to say. Here's what the base safety office recommends when driving during the winter:

-- Beware of bridges, they freeze first.
-- Be aware of conditions and adjust to them.
-- Be careful on hills and grades.
-- Watch your following distance. Slick roads can increase distance it takes to brake safely. Try to triple your normal following distance; try for six seconds in between vehicles.
-- Drive at reduced speeds to ensure safe braking.
-- Signal your intention to turn sooner than normal.
-- Avoid quick acceleration- it could cause you to lose control.
-- Be aware of black ice. It is commonly found under bridges, overpasses and shaded areas.
-- Completely clear your windshield of all ice, snow and frost before driving.