Friday, 5 February 2010

near-death experience

Have you ever had a near-death experience? And I don’t mean one of those hallucinatory experiences where you are walking down a tunnel towards what is usually described as some kind of ‘heavenly’ light. I mean, have you ever been in a situation where, fully conscious, you’re convinced that your life is going to end in the next five seconds? I have. It happened like this.

I’d passed my driving test only two weeks earlier, and I probably didn’t pay close enough attention to advice that a friend had given me when I told him the news.

“Now you can start learning to drive.”

I was working in Holland at the time, and I was driving a company car on a motorway near IJmuiden. It was late at night, and it was raining. I came to a left-hand bend on which the indicated maximum speed was 70km/hr. With the naive arrogance of youth, I entered the bend at 120km/hr. Oh dear, to my horror, the car started to slide outwards. Before I’d had time to take in what was happening, the car was scraping along the crash barrier.

“Shit!” I thought. “How am I going to explain this to the boss?”

The car was then catapulted violently into the middle of the carriageway, where it did several pirouettes (anticlockwise, if I remember correctly). I think that this is when I started to panic.

But worse was to come. The car must have rolled over something rough, because it suddenly went into an end-to-end somersault. And that is when I said to myself: “Dennis, you’re going to die.”

Two or three sideways rolls and four or five seconds later, the car came to rest, upside down, in the fast lane of the opposite carriageway. I was still conscious. And unhurt, apart from a large bruise on my upper arm and a minor cut on the back of my head. There is a small irony here: this happened in the days when seat belts were not a standard fitting, but the car I was driving did have an airline-style lap belt. That morning, I’d complained that it didn’t provide sufficient protection. On reflection, I would say that saving my life is sufficient enough.

However, I must have used up half a lifetime’s worth of good luck to get out alive. I’m convinced that if it were possible to replicate the event somehow, I’d die nine times out of ten (at least).

For a long time, perhaps twenty years, I shuddered every time that I recalled this experience. But not the near-death part. The first thing that I was aware of when the car stopped rolling was the smell of petrol. The tank was leaking badly, and, although I was unhurt, my foot was jammed behind the accelerator pedal. I used to wonder how I’d have coped had the petrol ignited. I think that this would have been really pushing my luck.

And in case you were wondering, I was fired for totalling the company’s car. But I did take one positive lesson from the experience. I took my friend’s advice: never be satisfied with mere competence; always look to improve; always strive to be the best you can be at whatever you do. Anything less is a compromise. As far as driving is concerned, I’m still learning, forty years later.


  1. Yes, I was 18 and pregnant and hit head on by a truck with a drunk driver. I was in a '76 Volkswagon Rabbit. 3 Cracked ribs, cuts and bruises but both Baby Britney who is 24 in March are just fine.

  2. Dennis:

    I am glad that you are alive. The line, "I must have used up half a lifetime’s worth of good luck to get out alive" was lovely.

    Joy always and have a splendid weekend.


  3. Glad to hear you are still alive!

  4. I can't say I ever have. But blimey, yours sounds pretty damn frightening. Having every thought running through your head at once in those split seconds must be......well, I have no idea what it felt like. I dare-say I ever will, though I'd rather a near-death experience than the alternative =)

  5. Hi Dennis,
    Several years ago, I was also in a very bad accident. When it was over, I was taken away on a back board. I thought I was aware of everything going on around me. I found out later that I had been knocked unconscious and my memories weren't accurate at all. It was like a totaly different event. Very weird...

  6. Frightening but a great lesson to have taken from the experience.

  7. good that you are still alive! i too had similar experience on my first day of driving with license. the car suddenly rush out of high way after i turned my head to look side, and i was nervously push the accelerator to bottom!... well, i did not have chance to think i would die, anyway.


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