I fell asleep at the wheel

Rachel never imagined the terrible consequences of driving while tired

Rachel Barrie, 19, Romsey, Vic

Daylight flooded around me as I prised my eyes open.

Where was I?

A searing pain tore through my leg. Suddenly, I could smell burning…

Waves of panic crashed over me as I realised I was in my car. The engine was wrapped around a tree and the mangled hulk of the dashboard was encasing my body.

Looking down, I saw my knees were sliced open and my right leg bone was jutting out at an angle.

Somehow, I’d crashed into a tree. I had to get out!

But my ankle wouldn’t budge. It was wedged tightly under the accelerator.

How had this happened?

I remembered driving to see my mum Leanne after staying over at a friend’s house the night before.

I’d made the 50-minute journey down the quiet country road countless times. But today, something had felt different. About 40 minutes in, I remembered feeling really tired.

Even though I had dance music playing loudly, I felt myself getting sleepy.

I thought about stopping to take a rest but was only 8kms from home. I’ll take a nap when I get in, I’d thought.

As I drove, I couldn’t stop my eyes from closing. Then the world went black…

To my horror, I realised I’d crashed my car because I’d fallen asleep at the wheel.

Now, thick smoke was starting to belch out from under the bonnet. And I was trapped inside!

Frantically feeling for my phone, I realised it must have been thrown from reach.

Orange flames burst out of the engine as terror took over.

How was I going to escape?

My car was wrapped around a tree.

Slipping in and out of consciousness, all I could feel was horror. ‘Help! Please help!’ I screamed.

Suddenly a woman was outside the car. ‘I’ll call Triple-0,’ she shouted, before I passed out again.

When I came round, there was a man tugging at my driver’s door. Flinging it open, he then tried to pull me out.

But with my ankle firmly wedged in place, I wasn’t going anywhere.

Pain surged through me as I passed out again.

When I came to, a younger man had joined in the frantic struggle. He gripped me tightly as they both desperately tried to drag me from the car.

Bright flames were licking the passenger seat, just centimetres from where I was stuck. Was this it? Was I going to burn to death?

‘Please get me out!’ I screamed, before the pain took over once more.

The next thing I remember is feeling the strong arms of the two men, hauling me from the car. Relief washed over me as I was finally freed from my blazing Barina. The two men placed me on the ground and I looked up at my vehicle.

BOOM! Angry flames engulfed the car as it exploded. I’d got out with only seconds to spare before I’d have been burnt alive.

Arriving in hospital.

Coming to in hospital, my mum and her husband Peter soon arrived at my bedside, followed by my dad Chris and his partner Maria.

‘I fell asleep while I was driving,’ I sobbed.

‘Don’t worry about that now,’ soothed my mum as the painkillers kicked in.

The next few days were a blur of sleep and operations.

Doctors explained I’d broken my tail bone, right femur and right ankle.

I’d also fractured my neck and my pelvis had detached.

Despite the pain, I knew how lucky I was to be alive.

After two weeks, I was moved to a rehabilitation centre to learn to walk again. It was hard work, but I was determined to get back on my feet.

Learning to walk again.

I went home on crutches. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the men who saved my life.

Contacting the Country Fire Authority, I was able to get in touch with them. First I met Jeff, the older man.

‘Thank you so much,’ I said giving him a hug.

‘I only did what anyone else would have,’ he said humbly.

Then I met Darren, who told me he doesn’t normally drive that road.

‘I’ve got kids around your age,’ he said. ‘I imagined it was one of them in there and knew I had to do something.’

I discovered that Darren and Jeff had used their bare hands to pull the dashboard away from my body and release my trapped ankle.

By the time they got me free the flames were only centimetres away and it was just 90 seconds later that my car blew up.

Darren and Jeff received bravery awards from the CFA for risking their lives to save mine. I was so grateful for everything they did.

Six months on, I’m only just back at work and still have scars on my legs and back.

My biggest regret is that I didn’t pull over to take a power nap that day. I’m sharing my story to warn others about the dangers of driving while tired.

I’m so lucky to be alive.

 Originally published in that’s life! Issue 19 – May 12, 2016

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