Distraction can be deadly

Dr. Kenneth Browning, physician-proprietor of Fern Creek Medical Center, spoke with the Town Crier recently to give the details behind his bizarre auto crash at our local transfer station on Monday morning, May 29. He hopes everyone can learn from it.

Browning related that he had just backed his car up to a dumpster — as we all have done. He braked to a full stop, intending to shift the car into park, put on the parking brake and exit the vehicle — again, as we all have done. But immediately upon braking to a stop, he received a cell phone call from his wife. She was asking him for a number — an account number or a password, or some such — and they had to ponder a while before Browning came up with the answer and transmitted the number to her. When the call with his wife ended, he existed his vehicle to go about emptying the trunk of his car — as we all have done.

Suddenly, he observed his car backing up, and he realized he hadn’t yet put it in park and set the parking brake. He rushed to reach in with his foot to step on the brake, but his foot slipped off the pedal and onto the accelerator. The car shot backwards, and the open door or door frame body-slammed him flat, face up on the pavement. The car hit the dumpster so hard it knocked the dumpster over onto its back. In the process, the rear of his car rode up the front of the dumpster and was lifted off the asphalt. The car came to rest, suspended on the now-vertical bottom edge of the upturned dumpster, with Browning underneath.

Browning said he looked up and thought, “I’m a dead man.” He was sure the car was about to come crashing down on him. But, with the help of bystanders, he got out from under the vehicle, which remained suspended.

Although he told the people there at the dump he thought he was “OK,” he learned later that was not the case. Both sides of his torso now have pain so bad, he said he feels like he’s “lost his center core.” He also sustained serious lacerations and scrapings to his extremities. Fortunately, he said, he’s feeling a bit better each day.

He notes that, in a strange way, it was lucky that the car shot back into the dumpster so fast. “If it had been going slower, it might have just shoved the dumpster back instead of knocking it over,” he said. Then the rear of the car would have dropped off the edge of the pavement, the front end of the car would have tipped up and then come crashing down on top of him. But with the dumpster knocked on its back, the edge of the dumpster’s sturdy bottom held his vehicle up, enabling him to escape a very serious injury or worse.

Browning feels the lesson to be learned is: We must beware of distractions in our busy world. When one does happen, after it’s over and you go back to what you were doing, take close stock of exactly what you were doing and where you were in the process when the distraction happened. In his case, he assumed he had already put his car in park and set the brake, but he hadn’t. That assumption could have cost him his life.

Of course, similar advice holds true regarding many more commonly encountered distractions: You’re driving, and your cell phone rings or tells you it just received a text message. Instead of fumbling to answer the call or scan the message while you’re driving, adopt a personal rule that you won’t even look at your phone until you’ve found a place to safely turn out and stop.

That simple practice could save lives, whether we’re the driver getting the call or we’re approaching a driver who is.