Cars We Remember: The Saga of Young Joe

Greg Zyla More Content Now
Courtesy of The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

With gas prices at a four-year low and more drivers on the road this holiday season than ever, it’s time for our yearly column on the dangers of drinking and driving. DUI arrests continue to be a major problem nationwide, and the following story is a too often repeated problem that plagues our nation’s highways.

This is the saga of young Joe, a fun loving 21-year-old who is full of life, has lots of friends and is a good person. He also has a beautiful muscle car, a 1968 AMC Javelin 390 that he loves to drive. As Joe lives in a warm climate state, taking his car out during the holidays is a common occurrence.

Joe could be your friend, son, sibling, parent or your husband. He’s having a great time at a holiday party, joining in on all the fun. He feels he’s fine to get behind the wheel even though he has had one too many alcoholic drinks.

It’s 1:30 a.m. and time to head home. Thank goodness he’s alone in his AMC Javelin 390 as Joe isn’t aware that on this night he’ll become one of the more than 32,000 drivers that will die in car accidents in 2015. This death rate is an 8.1-percent increase over 2014 fatalities as every 51 minutes an alcohol related fatality occurs somewhere in the United States. Further, his death will be recorded in the 25-percent group of impaired driving fatalities that occur between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tracks all data available on alcohol related crashes and fatalities, and stresses that drunk driving is often a symptom of a larger problem: alcohol misuse and abuse.

Back to Joe.

Joe is not aware he is speeding at 65 mph, and approaching a curve in the highway that should be taken at 35 mph. His reactions, meanwhile, have been slowed by the alcohol. Then, his cell phone rings and he’s further distracted.

Joe is going too fast to make the curve. To make matters worse, he also forgot to buckle his seatbelt when he left the party. Before Joe even knows what is happening, his car is off the dark country road and headed directly toward a huge tree. His 1968 muscle car AMC Javelin 390 does not have airbags.

There is no correcting. Joe’s car hits the tree with a resounding crunch.

At 1/10th of a second, the car’s front bumper and grillwork collapse.

At 2/10ths of a second, the hood crumbles, rises and smashes into the windshield. The grillwork now disintegrates.

At 3/10ths of a second Joe is sprung upright from his seat. His legs are immediately broken, and his knees crash against the dashboard. The steering wheel bends under his grip.

At 4/10ths of a second, the front of the car is completely destroyed and is now dead still. However, the rear end of the car is still traveling at 55 mph, and the 750-lb. AMC 390-V8 engine and accessories are crunched into the tree.

At 5/10ths of a second, the impact rips Joe’s shoes clean off his feet. The Javelin’s chassis bends in the middle and Joe’s head is slammed into the windshield. The car’s rear end begins its downward fall as the spinning wheels churn into the ground.

At 6/10ths of a second, the entire body of the car is twisted out of shape and the front seat continues to ram forward.

At 7/10ths of a second, Joe’s chest is pinned against the steering wheel shaft. His internal organs crash against his rib cage.

At 8/10ths of a second, Joe is dead. He’s now a statistic.

If you plan to host a holiday party this year or a Super Bowl or Daytona 500 gathering, remember these important facts: You can be held liable and prosecuted if someone you served alcohol to ends up in a drunk-driving crash. Please make sure all of your guests designate sober drivers in advance, or help arrange alternate transportation. Have phone numbers for taxi cab companies available; and finally, have everyone put their keys into a large bowl when entering the party and then take away vehicle keys if guests become intoxicated.

In summary, it’s not just young drivers like Joe who die on our nation’s highways. Many adult drivers become statistics, too, from similar alcohol induced or distracted driving mistakes. Plan your travel carefully this holiday season, and never be in a hurry. If roads turn nasty, pull off safely at a roadside rest stop or have a coffee at restaurant.

Finally, if you must stop your vehicle to rest, never pull off and stop on the freeway shoulder or side of a road—it’s dangerous sitting there as the odds of being struck by an oncoming vehicle is very high.

Keep in mind that more deaths per mile traveled occur during holiday season. Have a safe 2015 Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. season, and a happy New Year’s Eve.

Next week, we’ll look at distracted driving in all its forms and why driver phone texting/distraction is now a national driving nightmare.

Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now, and other Gatehouse Media publications. He welcomes reader questions on old cars, auto nostalgia and old-time motorsports at 116 Main St., Towanda, PA 18848 or at