A woman who was involved in 13 car accidents before she reached the age of 30 has said she does not think she will get behind the wheel again, adding “I think I’ve pushed my luck enough with driving”.
Jennifer Cairns, 50, a mum of two from Ohio now living in Belfast, still has injections in her neck after a dramatic car crash involving a lorry pushing her off the road.
Since moving to Belfast in 2001, the entrepreneur has not obtained her full driving licence in the UK, as she thinks she may have PTSD from the accidents, despite not being phased by them in her twenties.
She counts herself as one of the lucky ones, mainly because her childhood best friend died in a car accident involving a lorry in 1990. Jennifer has generalised anxiety disorder, autism and ADHD, and thinks her nervousness towards driving has only come to light more than 20 years after the car crashes because of this.
The first car accident she was involved in occurred in 1980 when she was seven years old and her mum was driving.
She explained: “I just remember coming home from my uncle’s house. He lived not too far away, about a 10 or 15-minute drive away, and I think the roads were probably just icy or slippery, and we crashed.”
The second crash happened when Jennifer was 17 and was behind the wheel, saying: “It was probably one of the most dramatic of all the crashes.
“I had literally just found out that day that, ironically, my best friend, who lived right down the street from me, had a car accident and was killed by a semi-truck.
“Around two hours after her accident, I totalled my car less than a mile up the street from where we lived. I think I found out she was in the hospital, so I shouldn’t have been driving. I was driving and spilt out on the road and ended up going through a fence backwards and crashing into a tree.”
Jennifer was in hospital after the accident, having hit her head and fractured her orbital socket, and had three surgeries. She was surprisingly not shaken up after the crash, saying: “It was really strange. Right away, I don’t think it bothered me.
“I think it was probably one of those things, as a teenager, and I just didn’t think about it too much. I just thought, let’s jump back in, and nothing can touch me when I was in high school.”
Jennifer added: “I didn’t know I was neurodivergent, which gives me a lot of like, grit and staying power. Later in life, I suffered a lot from my anxiety disorders, not necessarily related to this, but I have GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) and PTSD, but I’m sure that a lot of it was decompartmentalised.
“I did things like get into cars where I don’t know who is driving, or driving cars that never should have been on the road, which wasn’t smart. I think it just didn’t hit me how bad it was, and I hadn’t dealt with a lot of things at that point.”
The following year, Jennifer was involved in an accident that involved another totalled car, saying: “A friend of a friend was driving at night. I didn’t know them, but our mutual friend was in the car. After the accident, they actually all left the scene. I was in the back and injured.”
A few months later, Jennifer bought herself a new car, which cost her just 150 dollars. She was unaware that there was a hole in the floorboard, and it was not fit to drive, eventually leading to a crash.
She said: “I entered onto a highway, and it was winter, and it was icy. Luckily, there was not much traffic on the highway, and I did a complete spin out and circled all over the road. I was okay, but if anyone else had been on the highway, it could’ve been much worse.”
The bonnet of a different car that Jennifer was driving blew up a year later while she was on a dual carriageway. She also had two tyres blow out and hit a concrete barrier on the highway on three separate occasions.
She said: “Luckily, we weren’t going fast because there was quite a bit of traffic, and then another time, a tyre blew out because we were driving fast, but luckily the people behind us reacted well.”
Another incident occurred when Jennifer was a passenger in her then-boyfriend’s car. She said: “We were going through an intersection, and another car ran the light and hit us. I was injured and had to have physio on my head and neck, and had some cuts and burns.”
Jennifer endured another accident in a cheap car when a wire from one of the rear lights became loose, and it sparked, causing the whole of her boot to catch fire. She laughed: “I remember being annoyed because I had this awesome white and black zebra print lip service jacket. I was so annoyed because it was burned, like, not worried about the car.”
At age 24, Jennifer was on her way to her best friends’ wedding, driving from South Florida to Tallahassee, when her car was totalled again. Jennifer was driving on a two-lane road, and a semi-truck to her right attempted to overtake her, but pushed her out of the lane. There was nowhere for Jennifer to go besides a ditch, and despite honking her horn and screaming, the truck continued passing until Jennifer was on the grass.
She said: “It made me very uneasy when driving by semis, especially because that’s what killed my friend in high school too. So I think that one definitely stuck with me, more than any of them.”
The 13th car accident Jennifer experienced involved her being rear-ended at a traffic light in 1999. She said: “Someone decided not to stop and ran right through me. And again, I had a lot of damage in my neck, and I had to go for physio for about four months and had to have C6 surgery. Even now, I go for nerve injections in my neck.”
Since moving to Belfast in 2001, Jennifer has settled on a provisional licence and has not retaken her test due to her anxiety.
She thinks being in so many car accidents has changed her perspective on life, saying: “A lot of people would say, you’ve had such bad luck, but I have a lot of gratitude and think that I’m very lucky. I say to my two boys that whatever situation you’re in, it can always be worse, and it can always be better. The accidents caused me physical pain and affected my mental health, but so many of them could have been so much worse.”
On whether she would ever get behind the wheel again, Jennifer said: “I don’t think so no. It’s strange because part of me thinks I would be more confident behind the wheel because I would be in control. She laughed: “I think I’ve pushed my luck enough with driving.”
Have your say in our news democracy. Click the upvote icon at the top of the page to help raise this article through the indy100 rankings.