Jason Colthorp: How car seats protected my girls when our SUV slid on black ice, rolled 3 times

‘The safety of those car seats are a big reason why my girls are still here’

BOONSBORO, MARYLAND - MARCH 12: An early Spring snowstorm descends on the rural landscape of Western Maryland on March 12, 2022, in Boonsboro, Maryland. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images) (Andrew Lichtenstein, 2022 Andrew Lichtenstein)

It was the longest 12 seconds of my life.

Anyone who’s lost control while driving in wintry weather in Michigan knows that feeling. That stomach-drop feeling that usually accompanies most rides at Cedar Point.

Oddly, I’d felt that split-second feeling many times on the road, but I’d always calmly taken my foot off the gas, steered the wheel to the direction I wanted go and waited for the vehicle to fall back into place. But this time it didn’t.

It was November 2003. The freeway was snowy, but I’d driven in much worse. Still, I was going about 60 even though others were passing me on this stretch of U.S. 127 north of Lansing in Clinton County.

I just went under an overpass and into a slight curve when the GMC Jimmy I was in started to slide. Almost instantly I knew this was different than just a slick road --this was black ice.

Even as the vehicle slid into the median, I was mostly thinking about the annoyance that would be having to call a tow truck to get out.

But that feeling immediately turned to panic.

It is a two-lane divided freeway on this stretch of 127, and as quickly as I went into the median, I bounced out into the oncoming lanes. In the distance, I could see two semi-trucks coming toward me.

The vehicle kept sliding across the lanes to the shoulder and I thought there was still a chance I could just come to rest there and this would all be over. But the SUV kept sliding, down the embankment and the vehicle leaned I knew it was going to roll.

I remember yelling, “No! Hold on!” The Jimmy rolled three times as I gripped the wheel tighter than anything I’d ever held onto. The car finally came to rest.

And now to the scariest part.

I turned around to see if my kids were OK. It was a millisecond that felt like an eternity. Leah was 3 years old and was in her front-facing car seat. She had a puzzled wide-eyed look on her face and was covered in glass. I frantically said, “are you okay?! Are you okay?!” She started to cry, but she was fine.

A.J. was just 8 months old and hadn’t even woken up, still asleep in her baby carrier strapped to the base. It was the biggest exhale I’d ever taken. The windows were blown out and we were suddenly freezing, but we were alive. Car seat safety is that story.

When first responders offer to check your car seats for free to make sure they’re installed properly -- don’t put it off. Don’t take for granted you have them in correctly, because I did and I was wrong.

Officials say most of the parents who get them inspected have them installed incorrectly. It’s no surprise -- the instructions are hard and they vary from vehicle to vehicle.

I’m glad I got it fixed because I have no doubt the safety of those car seats are a big reason why my girls are still here today at ages 22 and 19 now. Don’t wait . . . because you can regret it in an instant.

Read more: Car seat safety resource guide: How to install a car seat and have it inspected for free near you

About the Author:

Jason is Local 4’s utility infielder. In addition to anchoring the morning newscast, he often reports on a variety of stories from the tragic, like the shootings at Michigan State, to the off-beat, like great gas station food.