Thursday, February 12, 2009

"May I have 10,000 marbles, please?"

Today, I pay homage to a pair of items that saved my family from a disaster this weekend: 1) the thermometer on my Ford Explorer dashboard and 2) its anti-lock brakes.

We were driving back from the mountains in northern Arizona in the aftermath of a fairly decent snowstorm. The plows had run their course, the roads were wet but clean, and the temperature warmed into the high 30s as we descended in elevation. Then the temperature starts to drop again into the low 30s as we hit the part of SR87 that regains altitude outside of Sunflower, and dark clouds start to form. At this point, I said out loud, "Hmmm, I'm going to hop in the right lane and take it easy." Moments later, we were being passed steadily by cars going 5 or 10 mph faster.

About 2 minutes later, we came around a bend and saw mayhem right out of a video game: About 15 cars had variously smashed, spun, and dumped into the roadside ditch, with airbags popped and windshields cratered. I stomped on the brakes and felt the rumble of the anti-locks kick in, allowing us to stay mostly straight as we skidded through a 2-inch bed of ball-bearing-sized hail.

Now the worry was that someone was going to hit us from behind, so I weaved through the wreckage to the far side. At this point, we could see a cop in the rear view mirror, so it appeared that we were the last car to make it through safely before they closed the road. No one, mercifully, was killed in the accident.

There's no question we got lucky--a minute earlier and we're in the heart of the matter whether we like it or not. But it reinforced in my own head, and hopefully in my soon-to-be-driving teenagers' heads, that maintaining a safe speed for the conditions and an appropriate distance from the car in front of you are the best insurance money can't buy.

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