A 1990's Buick Roadmaster sedan (wikicommons)
How close are you to your car or truck? Has it ever literally saved your life?

Car companies that have models scoring very high on crash tests or coming equipped with as many airbags as songs you can fit on your iPod advertise how safe they are. Being safe and sound matters to a great many car buyers and owners. In fact, some buyers pay more attention to crash safety ratings than quality ratings.

I can think of one instance where a car probably saved my life. It was 1992, and I was testing a Buick Roadmaster sedan. General Motors' Buick division hasn't made the Roadmaster since 1996, but you can still see some on the road, especially the Roadmaster's woody-sided station wagon.

The Roadmaster was not a much-loved vehicle. It was named after a much cooler sedan of the same name, built off and on by GM from 1936 to 1959. It was a 1949 Roadmaster convertible that was featured in the 1988 movie Rain Man. In the film, Tom Cruise drives the Roadmaster his father never let him drive, and he collects his autistic brother, Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman, and the two hit the road for Las Vegas.

This 1992 Roadmaster I was testing was meant to appeal to older drivers who missed the big burly tank-like sedans of the 60s and 70s. I happened to notice, while watching a documentary film, that the great actress Katherine Hepburn chose this model as her car in the 1990s and used it until the year she died. She was driven around by a chauffeur. No doubt she enjoyed the extra roomy interior and battleship-safe feel. But she is the only famous person I ever saw associated with the car.

One day I was driving in New Jersey and was stopped in the left-turn lane. There were two through-traffic lanes to my right. There was a red light for the two through lanes and one for my lane. I admittedly was preoccupied with a family problem. I looked up and saw a green-light, and started my left turn. But I looked at the wrong light--it was for the through traffic lane, not mine. As I swung into my turn, I was met head on by a Volvo 740 station-wagon going about 40-45 mph. It was driven by a young mother with her 2 1/2 year old in a car seat.

It all happened so fast. She hit my car on the right front corner with a car that was pretty beefy in its own right. The airbags went off, and the cabin filled up with the noxious smoke and gas from the airbags. I was dazed. I had been belted in. But I was concussed, I later found out.

It is my supposition that being belted in, driving that big, heavy beefy car and the airbags all conspired to save my life. I am pretty sure that I was at least spared serious injury by the big well-equipped Roadmaster. Police arrived and unstuck my driver-side door. The young mother and her child walked away, protected in their own big beefy Volvo wagon. I staggered away, but in one piece.

The Roadmaster was a fairly unpopular car, and not terribly successful at the showroom. But every time I see one, I give it a nod of respect, and remember that one week before, in the very same spot, I was testing a little Mazda Miata.

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