Sonia Prieto
Executive Secretary
Gonvarri Steel Services

«A woman was killed and another nine people were injured when a trailer truck crashed into seven cars on the M-50. It was the most serious accident in the region during the [city’s] first exit operation of the summer.»

When you read a headline like this one in the newspapers, you automatically think only other people suffer such tragedies, you never think you’ll be the subject of the news. Unfortunately, however, that headline referred to me.

On that Friday, July 2, 2010, in the middle of the exit operation, I finished my workday just like I did on any other Friday. I was seven months pregnant and very thrilled because my preparation classes for the birth started precisely on that day. I headed home, as always, on the M-50. I saw that a traffic jam was beginning to form; typical, I thought. I slowed down and stopped the car, warning the vehicle behind me. Suddenly, looking to one side, I saw pieces of a car flying through the air and as I saw the pieces flying I heard how cars were smashing one against another. Eight or nine impacts. Terrible smashes. All I could do was think, “For the love of God, I’m pregnant!”, because my car was also being hit. The last hit, the last smash, was tremendous… And suddenly, everything stopped, there was absolute silence.

I was also paralyzed, terrified. The first thing I did was to check to see if my belly was bleeding. Then I got out of the car and found an enormous truck almost on top of me, which had completely ripped off the front end of the car. I remember I looked around me and saw only destroyed vehicles everywhere. And people screaming and crying, running without direction. A total chaos. It was like a film. Without being able to stop myself, I began to cry.

I cared only about my daughter and asked everyone who passed, “Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding?”. Fortunately, my daughter was ok. But I only found that out later.

The accident was caused by a car that tried to cut into a lane and was left sideways; when the truck arrived it could barely brake – we were all stationary –; the truck flipped onto its side and crashed into all of the cars in front of it. The car in front of me was under the truck’s bumper; the driver was evacuated by helicopter. The car that caused the accident was the worst hit: the passenger died and the driver was left disabled. From what I read later, I know many people were injured, some seriously. My car crashed into a lamppost, my side was intact, the other side destroyed, as was the front end. I had a splendid guardian angel and was very lucky.

Coche de Sonia tras el accidente

I was in shock. I attempted to reach my husband while a confused stranger tried to take my mobile phone away from me. The ambulances arrived, as did the firemen (who were incredible, highly professional and considerate) and also my husband, Ricardo. In that extreme state of nerves, the only thing it occurred to me to say to him was, “You’re going to kill me, I’ve wrecked the car. Although, it wasn’t my fault”. A surreal situation.

They took me to the hospital and did all kinds of tests. They told me everything was ok, that I’d been very lucky. But I didn’t believe them, because my daughter wasn’t moving. They told me it was nothing to worry about, it was normal, an effect of the shock, that she also had suffered. So they let me leave and I went home with a neck brace (the pregnancy seat belt saved my life, but left a cut on my neck). I still didn’t feel my daughter and began to get obsessed. This was added to by all the paperwork, the check-ups, the visits to the insurance company, the Guardia Civil who called for me to testify… A big ball of feelings developed, accentuated by the pregnancy. I had a lot of problems sleeping – I had nightmares, I heard the sirens at night – and had to seek psychological assistance.

I was, of course, absolutely unable to drive. And every time I got into a car (which was almost every day, to go to the doctor, the insurance company, the psychologist…) I cried from the stress. I was terrified, I thought we were going to have an accident at any moment (in this respect, I must be grateful for my husband’s infinite patience). And, furthermore, it was a month before I could feel my daughter, Paula, who remained under the affects of the shock. The only thing I wanted was to give birth, for the torture, anguish and fear to end.

At last I gave birth and everything went well, but I didn’t dare drive with my daughter in the car. My husband took me to work, but I was so full of anguish that, when I arrived, I got out crying and almost kissed the ground. Later, I learned that this is an illness called amaxophobia (fear of being in a car). It took me six months before I could sit behind the steering wheel.

My husband tried to encourage me to drive. On a Sunday, without cars, slowly… but I simply responded, “I can’t! I can’t!”. In the end, I mustered the strength and tried, for my daughter, for my job… But it wasn’t easy, there were moments when I just wanted to stop and get out of the car, even if I was in the middle of the road. My vision clouded up, my legs failed me. And I thought, “Come on, Sonia, continue a bit longer, do it for Paula”, and I continued a bit more, and a bit more… and so I arrived at work. I don’t know what I would have done without the support of my husband, my parents and siblings, my baby daughter. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. It’s in these situations that you realize how important your family is… and how important you are to them.

It was a year before I could turn on the radio, because I had to be so concentrated, so tense, that I would arrive and start crying, above all at first. It was a victory to arrive alone. And if it was a rainy or foggy day, self-control took over. I am a very positive person, but I had a very bad time. The important thing is that I decided not to give up. I had to fight, I couldn’t be such a burden on someone, my husband, who had always given me everything; it wasn’t fair to him or to anybody.

I now arrive very calmly to work, because the goal is to arrive. Five years have passed since the accident, but there are still situations that cause me stress when driving. I never drive during the holiday exit operations; when I do travel, I look for moments when there are few cars, I take all the safety precautions, seatbelts, turn signals, the child’s seat, I keep an exaggerated distance from other cars and if I’m traveling with Paula, I leave even more space… and even so, I still think other cars are going to crash into ours.

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If something positive has come out of the accident, it’s that I now drive much more carefully. Which is something most drivers in Spain don’t do, because I don’t think very good road education exists here: this education should begin to be instilled in people from the age of childhood. And of course adults, who have become a bit wild, urgently need recycling; we need to go back and refresh the rules and regulations of driving and recover the necessary prudence.

Another positive lesson I got out of this experience was the way in which my colleagues behaved, my bosses, the entire company, even the president… Everyone behaved wonderfully with me; it’s impossible to express the gratitude I feel for all of the affection and attention they gave me. Gonvarri is a very special company in this sense. Within the professional realm, the atmosphere is very familiar. I’m very lucky to be happy to go to work.

For this reason, Emotional Driving seems to me like a lovely – and necessary – initiative. When I experienced it, I was very thrilled; it was moving. The president’s words (which greatly moved me, for how human and touching they were) and those of all the bosses, the videos, the testimonies of those affected, the physiotherapist, the fireman (he was impressive; I remember the affection, humor, professionalism…, a job we don’t appreciate until something happens to us). It was also very lovely that everyone participated with statements about what motivates us to drive… (I even won a prize). And, of course, the simulations, which especially moved me.

Lots of colleagues have approached me to ask how I experienced the accident and tell me that the testimonies and experiences have also touched them. Some have told me that they now leave more distance between cars or drive a little more slowly, or take extra safety precautions when they drive with their children. And that’s fantastic. For me, it’s very important to see that my experience, or that of other speakers, has reached others. We aren’t aware that our lives can be changed forever within a split second. A CD, using the GPS, the mobile phone, the slightest distraction… We aren’t aware of how dangerous it can be, for us and others. We’ve all received warnings, but we always think that something serious happens to others, not to us.

After experiencing Emotional Driving, you can tell people come back from their holidays more aware. And that is truly important. It’s a real life’s lesson, without having to live through it, as I did. But I’m happy I can talk about it and share the positive aspect of it so that others can have a good experience.

I thank God every day for the fact that I’m here and for what happened. For me, the biggest gift is that I’m all right and that my daughter is too. That means everything.

 

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