When 16-year-old Stephanie Kozlowski stepped into her car Easter morning 2016, she thought she would be going on a routine coffee run.
Drivers ages 16-19 are more likely to be involved in motor vehicle accidents than any other age group. In nearly 60 percent of these cases, the accident occurs because of distracted driving in the six seconds before the crash. Kozlowski knows a lot can happen in six seconds.
“I had gone to Starbucks and had drinks for my family balanced on a tray,” Kozlowski said. “I made a right hand turn out of the driveway and onto the road.”
That was when the coffee started to spill.
“I was trying to stop the tray from tipping over,” Kozlowski said. “As I leaned down to get it off the floor, I took the wheel with me.”
In the seconds it took to reach over, Kozlowski accelerated over a curb and ran into a pole, shattering her windshield and bending the car frame. She totaled her car.
“As soon as it happened I smelled smoke,” Kozlowski said. “There was a lot of noise from the impact and the car breaking, but I didn’t know what was going on. I was in shock, absolute shock.”
Kozlowski said her first thought was to make sure she had not hit another car. She then started checking herself for any injuries. Two witnesses helped calm Kozlowski down and called an ambulance.
“The airbag hit the side of my head,” Kozlowski said. “I was bruised and had a cut on my forehead. I felt blood dripping down my face.”
The new driver had only gotten her license two months prior to the crash and was scared to tell her parents what happened.
“I didn’t even cry until the ambulance came and I had to call my mom,” Kozlowski said. “I was bawling. That was worse than the accident itself.”
When her parents met her at the hospital, Kozlowski’s health concerned them more than any damage done to the car. Doctors had to take CT scans of Kozlowski’s head and an x-ray of her pelvis. She could not walk for a week after the crash, and it was even longer before she was ready to go back on the road.
“Sometimes I could still smell the burnt rubber,” Kozlowski said. “I was nervous just getting into the car with my dad to go home. I didn’t drive for a month after that.”
Before the accident, Kozlowski considered herself a safe driver, always making passengers wear a seatbelt and never using her phone behind the wheel. After the accident, she knows you can never be too cautious.
“I never thought I would get into an accident,” Kozlowski said. “Luckily I didn’t have any permanent injuries. Be prepared because any time you turn your head or take your eyes off the road can change, or end, your life. It’s a split second decision that you don’t think about until it’s made, and it’s too late.”
Now whenever she drives, Kozlowski is sure to follow her own advice and stay distraction-free.
“Next time, I’m going to just let the coffee spill instead of risking taking my eyes off the road.”