Since prom season is in full swing and graduation is nearing for all of our high school students, I am sharing a story about my son from two years ago as an important reminder for all parents of teenage drivers. We all are fully aware of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but what happened to my son two weeks after he graduated is an important reminder as high school students are staying up late for dances and preparing for finals and graduation ceremonies.
The call you never want to receive happened to me at 1:57 a.m. on June 28, 2014. The phone is on my side of the bed and I saw that it was my son calling which instantly terrified me. He doesn’t ever call me on the home line and of course the middle of the night phone call is never good news. I picked up to hear him screaming into the phone. “Mom, I’ve been in a horrible car accident. I’m bleeding. My car is upside down. You have to come.”
He had a general idea of where he was and I knew he was disoriented and confused. My heart was pounding out of my chest and I was full of a terror I had never experienced in my 18 years of parenting. My husband was already awake and I ran into my daughter’s room to tell her we had to go and she was in charge of the rest of our crew. She was panicked and all I could do was promise to call her when I knew more.
We reached the scene of the accident about the same time that the fire department and sheriff department were arriving. There had been a witness to the accident that had called 911 but had left the scene. I saw my son’s car before I saw him. He was driving an SUV that was now on its roof and smashed like a pancake with a large tree on the ground next to it. I kept looking for him. I felt like I was screaming but I wasn’t. I just wanted to find him. He finally came around the side of the car and he was shaking. He had blood on his head and arms and jeans but he was walking. He couldn’t explain what had happened. He just looked confused. The ambulance arrived next and they sat him down on the side of the road to see if he was ok. The sheriff immediately checked his eyes and he could follow a finger which to a mom meant his brain was working. They gave him a breathalyzer test and he had no alcohol in his system which I remember thinking at the time meant very little to me. I just wanted him in the ambulance and someone to tell me that he was going to be alright.
They finally loaded him up and we headed down to the trauma unit at Renown Hospital. I have never been in a trauma room before. They had sent the pictures from the scene to the hospital and you could tell that the doctors and nurses were ready for a serious situation. After examining my son one of the doctors actually asked if this really was the kid from the car that had flipped end over end and landed on its roof. All of the scans and x-rays were normal. The few cuts that he had were from crawling out of his passenger window to free himself from the wreckage. The marks on his head were just mud and grass and a small amount of blood that had come from moving his hair with a bleeding knuckle. After observing him for awhile, they decided he could be discharged as long as we kept an eye on him for any changes.
We got home around 6:00 a.m. and as much as I wanted to sleep and needed to sleep, I had so much adrenaline that I just sat in my bed wide awake. The responders on scene had determined that my son had fallen asleep at the wheel. There were no drugs or alcohol involved. No distracted driving from a late night phone call or text. It was just an 18 year old coming home from a late movie that fell asleep and by some chance walked away from a pile of steel without serious injury. I couldn’t wrap my arms around it and I still can’t today. I had covered all of the serious things about driving. He knew the dangers of driving and texting. He knew that a seatbelt was a must. He understood that you never get behind the wheel of a car intoxicated. I never once talked to him about the dangers of driving too tired.
Looking back on the last two weeks before the accident, we had experienced his graduation and lots of late night graduation parties. A few days after that he had all of his wisdom teeth pulled. He had been working long shifts at his job and the day of his accident he had just completed a two day orientation at the University of Nevada. He had spent the night in the dorms and I’m sure they were all up late having fun and meeting new friends. He was too tired to be driving home from a late night movie after all of those life events and I never thought to tell him.
To all of you teenagers out there and to every adult that is a driver, I have just one more piece of advice before you get behind the wheel. If you are feeling overly tired you can’t drive. You have to stay home or call for a ride or stay the night with a friend. It could cost you your life. My son, for whatever reason, was able to walk away from this but I know too many people who have faced that late night phone call with tragic results. He was too tired to drive and I hope his terrifying experience will change the outcome for every teenager getting behind the wheel over the next few busy months.