By Emma McDermott 

The national legal limit to drive in the United States is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08. I was hit by a drunk driver whose BAC was 0.23, almost three times the allowed standard, at 6 a.m. on a Sunday. 

My dad was driving me to a state championship game for soccer when, suddenly and out of nowhere, a car sped into the passenger side door at 70 mph. Our SUV spun across four lanes of highway traffic during the rainy darkness of that October morning. We smashed into pieces of debris from the driver’s car and a thick metal pole before miraculously crashing our way to safety in a muddy ditch along the side of the highway. The damage was significant: three airbags deployed, the car was totaled, I broke a few fingers, and my dad displaced a vertebra in his neck. 

I ended up playing in the game as hot, full tears rolled down my cheeks for 90 minutes. It felt surreal to survive an event that could have so easily killed me, end up virtually unscathed, and then go on with my plans for the day. It was the first time I had felt so alive because I had come so close to death; I both hated and loved that feeling at the same time. I was hit by an overwhelming and almost debilitating wave of gratitude to be standing on that field and not laying in an ambulance. 

The individual who hit us made the decision to value his own life, time, and convenience over those of me and my dad, in addition to every other person on the road. It was an incredibly selfish and dangerous decision that he made that could have cost him his life and the lives of any person on the road that morning: he was more willing to kill others than pay for a cab ride or wait to sober up. This is what is so frustrating and immoral about drunk driving. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are more than 10,000 deaths from drunk driving crashes every year. Every time you get in a car, you place your trust in the hands of every driver on the road. It’s scary to think about it that way, and the sad reality is that thousands of people die every year because they trusted someone who didn’t take that trust seriously. 

Not many people start their morning thinking that it could be their last day, and I’m not advocating that that’s a healthy way to live. However, I do think the awareness of my mortality that came as a result of the car accident has led me to enjoy my time alive more than I did before. I did a lot of reflecting on how I would have felt if I had died that day, and I decided that I would have been disappointed with myself for not enjoying as much life as possible. I wish I hadn’t spent so much time on my phone or worrying about grades and instead paid more attention to being present and living a life I would be proud of. 

I have not yet figured out exactly how to execute this lifestyle for myself – and it’s been over a year since this experience – but I do know that the life I live has to have some kind of meaning beyond my physical presence. Sometimes, that means calling my mom to tell her I love her, and other times it means volunteering or writing or grabbing dinner with a friend. Because, at the end of the day, I hope my life will mean more than just my existence, and that kind of life cannot be achieved by binge watching “The Office,” fun as that may be. 

I’ll save you the near-death experience and car trouble by asking this question: are you happy with how you’ve spent your time alive? 

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