The dummy who drove with jet lag
MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Martin van Beynen
OPINION: The view when I wake up is not good.
Ahead of me is a power pole, the headlights spotlighting it in the dark.
It's coming towards me - fast.
I try to swerve to the right to avoid it. I know immediately I must have fallen asleep at the wheel and I'm heading for trouble. Maybe I can still come out the other side unscathed and I imagine, in that split second, getting through undamaged and breathing a sigh of relief over a "close call".
Then a hard thump, cracks all over the windscreen, I'm horizontal and I think, "I am going to be hurt, injured."
Then that marvel of Japanese engineering, our 1996 Toyota Surf, comes to a standstill.
It's upright, the engine is running smoothly, one headlight still shining and I'm covered in glass. A power line is across the road and the power pole has broken in half.
I get out of the car, not a scratch on me. The car has landed on a wire fence and the left front side of the vehicle is a crumpled mess. I realise I'm in Charteris Bay, just along from Teddington.
A man wearing a Tibetan-style woolley hat rushes over the wet grass and asks if I'm OK.
He has a cellphone, but it belongs to a friend and he can't use it.
He gives it to me and although I'm the world's worst electronic device user, I make the 111 call, spending forever trying to pinpoint the location for the dispatcher. I have been driving on this road for nearly 25 years but don't know the name of the road that runs through Charteris Bay (it's actually Charteris Bay Road).
I ring my wife saying I'll be home late for my birthday dinner and, although I've been in an accident, I'm fine.
She is remarkably composed, possibly because she has had a few wines in my honour. Today I'm 56 (Monday, July 21) and I know I'm lucky to be alive. Also lucky I haven't hurt anybody else, but a queue is building up behind the accident and I know I've affected a lot of people.
Fire, Police and Ambulance are on their way. I stand out on the grass in the cold wind, turn off the engine and the lights and wait.
I feel calm. I don't know when the Diamond Harbour volunteer firefighters arrive, but when they do I recognise them all. Bob, Barry, Dave, Rick and Denzel in the cab of the truck. I play tennis with Denzel. Frank, also a firefighter, was behind me coming home in his car and has been organising things at the scene.
Chris, a good mate, seems to materialise out of thin air. We sit in Frank's car chatting about my overseas trip, out of the cold. It occurs to me the firefighters were probably just sitting down to dinner when the alarm went, but they seem pretty cheerful. The queue behind the power line across the road stretches into the dark. Before the emergency people arrive, one motorist just drives over the power line and others try to squeeze through a gap between a power pole and a hedge on the other side of the road.
The ambulance guys want to have a look at me and I step up into the ambulance, my shoes making muddy marks on the floor. A paramedic checks me over, squeezes my ribs and takes my vitals. My heart rate is down to 42, which causes some concern so they put me on a monitor.
Everyone wants to know what happened. I left work in Gloucester Street about 5.15pm, bound for home in Diamond Harbour. About Allandale I stopped because I felt sleepy and pulled over to have a snooze. I returned home from Europe on Saturday after a long- haul flight from London via Los Angeles so the sleepiness is no surprise. I woke up and carried on driving.
In Charteris Bay I conked out. I have no memory of feeling sleepy between Allandale and Charteris Bay.
I go to the accident site next morning. The Toyota has gone and workers are putting in a new pole. I realise that I crossed the road into the pole. The wheels tracks towards the pole are still clear in the grass. There are no skid marks. You know those videos of test cars hitting a wall head-on with dummies inside, their heads flopping around as the cars crumple on impact.
Well it occurs to me I have been in the real thing. Dummies do live to the tell the tale.
Moral of the story: watch jet lag. In any case, if you feel at all sleepy driving, stop, get some fresh air and some coffee. Most of us have driven, struggling to stay awake. Well, don't.
A big thanks to the all the emergency staff called out on a shocking night. A sincere apology to the commuters who were stuck while the mess was cleaned up.
- The Press