I used to be 'that guy'

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- "You can sit in the backseat if you want to," my boyfriend said to me when I was a one-striper in the late '80s.
 
We were leaving his house around midnight and he was taking me home in a borrowed car -- a stylin' '70s Datsun something-or-other. He offered the backseat as a joke,
noting that there wasn't a seatbelt for the passenger riding shotgun. 

It was a beautiful, clear California night. As we merged onto a nearly deserted highway, the only car on the road slammed into the back of our Datsun. It felt like a brick wall came from behind us and slammed into the economy car. The sound was incredible. The trunk was instantly in the backseat. 

The driver, my boyfriend Mike, a bodybuilder who won many California competitions, put his seat to the test. As we were slammed forward, then jerked back, Mike's weight caused the seat to break. Like the Tweety Bird cartoons, Mike sat up momentarily, looked at me dazed, and then his eyes rolled back in his head as he fell back into
the backseat. All that was missing was the birds flying in a circle over his head. 

So, since Mike was driving, this became a little tricky as I had to immediately take the wheel, try to straddle the stick shift to hit the brake and get Mike's foot off the gas. We were pushed off to the shoulder on the left side of the road and the car that hit us was on the shoulder on the right side of the road. As we came to a stop, the other driver decided to make it a hit-and-run.
 
In the dark, not really near anything, and in a time before cellular phones, with another person who was knocked out, what do you do? It took about 15 minutes before anyone would stop. Thankfully, it was a man who worked for the Red Cross. As he left to call the
California Highway Patrol, he told me not to let Mike move if he woke up because it looked like his neck was broken. 

Incredibly, I, the one not wearing a seatbelt, walked away with whiplash and two "shiners."
 
Mike didn't have a broken neck; only two cracked vertebrae. 

Before that car accident, I was "that guy." If you were driving a car in front of me, you were driving too slowly. It didn't matter if you were doing 20 or 30 mph over the speed limit -- you were in front of me and that's all that mattered. I would ride your bumper like I was trying to count how many freckles you had on the back of your neck as I mentally wished I could use my bumper to nudge you out of the way. 

But we all know it isn't wise to tailgate: period. It's even more unwise when the emperatures are hovering around freezing or below. While you may have confidence that you can handle your car if you hit black ice, the guy in front of you -- whose bumper you are riding -- may not be able to handle it.
 
Also, a lot can be said for defensive driving. Pay attention. Don't answer your phone unless it's hands free. If it looks like someone isn't adjusting his or her speed to merge, adjust your speed. If someone pulls into a traffic circle in front of you, let off the gas -- don't act like you want to T-bone him or her. If you're running late for a meeting and the guy in front of you isn't driving fast enough for you, don't ride his or her bumper. You'll get there eventually. 

Whether this car accident was caused by someone who was drunk or inattentive, it made no difference because the result was the same. With winter upon us, don't be
"that guy." Drive wisely and defensively. It will save both you and the other drivers on the road a lot of heartache in the end.
 
Finally, we all know that no military person would do a dirt-bag move like a hit-and-run, so if you should get in an accident, not only it is a serious offense to leave the scene of an accident, you also need to notify the base police within 72 hours of the accident.
 
Also, if you see an accident, German law stipulates that you cannot "mind your own business" and just keep driving - you need to stop and help.