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Crash course in safety: What you can learn from traffic-tragedy tunes

Gina Roberts-Grey

Car tragedies have been a favorite subject of songwriters for decades. But a handful of modern melodies hold some particularly poignant lessons for drivers.

And whether you’re a fan of pop, country, rock or rap, these lyrics can help you sidestep a traffic ticket – and keep your car insurance premiums low — or even help you steer clear of traffic tragedy.

“Receiving multiple tickets in a two- to three-year time period can result in (insurance) rates increasing by as much as 25 percent,” says J.R. Couch, an insurance agent in Arizona.

All drivers can learn from the following cautionary tales.

“Teen Angel”

In this song, a young couple in love find themselves stuck on the railroad tracks. They escape, but the girl inexplicably runs back to the car. The car is struck by a train and the girl dies, leaving her high school sweetheart to mourn.

A safer lyric: Railroad tracks and crossings have long been a danger spot. In October 1995, seven Illinois students were killed when their school bus was stopped on railroad tracks at a stop light.

“This is one of the easiest types of accidents to avoid,” says Jennifer Nelson, a driving instructor and insurance agent in New Jersey. “You should never, ever stop on railroad tracks. And if you’re stuck, get out of the car immediately to call for help.”

“The Ballad of Thunder Road

This tune tells the tale of Lucas Doolin, a bootlegger who delivers moonshine along local roads at high speeds to avoid “revenuers.” Lucas’ father advises him to “make this run your last” and not to try to outrun the law. Lucas ignores his father’s appeal, drives off the road at high speed and dies.

A safer lyric: John Crabb, a retired traffic cop in Illinois, says trying to outrun the law never ends well. “Not only can that result in additional traffic tickets or an arrest, it’s very dangerous. You risk your life and that of your fellow drivers,” Crabb says.

“Last Kiss”

Original singer Wayne Cochran was inspired to write the song because he lived near a highway in Georgia where several deadly crashes occurred. In the song, two young lovers are killed when their car hits a stalled vehicle. Cochran later dedicated the song to Jeanette Clark, a 16-year-old girl killed in a car crash in Georgia. 

A safer lyric: Ann Furber, director of Knight Driving School in Maine, says that whenever you’re traveling with a loved one, you have to be careful about avoiding distraction.

“Something as seemingly innocent as holding hands can impair a driver’s ability to react quickly,” Furber says. “The extra one or two seconds it takes to unlock hands in order to grab the wheel can make the difference between safely avoiding a situation and winding up in an accident.”

“Through the Wire”

“Through the Wire” is based on a near-fatal car crash in October 2002 involving musician Kanye West. The accident occurred about 3 a.m. after West left a California recording studio. He got cut off by a car, ran head-on into traffic and collided with another car near a hotel. West was taken to a hospital where, during reconstructive surgery, his jaw was wired shut. His jaw still was wired when he recorded this song. West says the accident underscored that life can be taken away at any time.

A safer lyric: “Driving late at night tends to increase the odds you’ll encounter a driver who’s under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” Crabb says. Translation: You’ve got to stay on your toes at all times, especially when you’re behind the wheel after dark.

“Bat Out of Hell”

The lyrics describe how a motorcycle rider is riding “faster than any other boy has ever gone.” Unfortunately, the rider “never (sees) the sudden curve ’til it’s way too late.” Drums and a roaring guitar symbolize a violent crash that leaves him “torn and twisted at the foot of a burning bike.” He can see his “heart still beating.” But the motorcyclist’s heart finally explodes like a “bat out of hell.”

A safer lyric: Once again, Crabb cautions that speeding isn’t safe. “Speeding on a motorcycle is just plain stupid. There’s nothing around you like air bags or seat belts to protect you in the event of a crash,” he says.

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