A woman who was involved in 13 crashes before the age of 30 said she didn’t think she would ever drive again, adding: “I think I’ve put my luck on driving.”
Jennifer Cairns, 50, a mother of two from Ohio, now lives in Belfast. She was still receiving an injection in her neck after a truck pushed her off the road in a dramatic crash.
The entrepreneur has not had a full UK driving license since moving to Belfast in 2001 because she believes she may have PTSD from the accident, although she did not in her 20s affected by these accidents.
She considers herself one of the lucky ones, largely because her childhood best friend was killed in a truck crash in 1990.
Jennifer, who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, autism and ADHD, believes her nervousness about driving only came to light more than 20 years after the accident.
The first car accident she was involved in occurred in 1980 when she was 7 years old while her mother was driving.
She explained: “I just remember coming home from my uncle’s house. He didn’t live far away, about a 10 or 15 minute drive, and I thought the roads might be icy or slippery and we crashed.”
Jennifer, who was behind the wheel of the second crash when she was 17, said: “It was probably the most dramatic crash of all.
“I really just found out that day that, ironically, my best friend, who lived down the street from me, had been in a car accident and was killed by a semi.
“About two hours after her accident, I reported my car to the street less than a mile from where we lived.
“I figured I found out she was in hospital so I shouldn’t be driving.
“I was driving and spilled on the road and ended up backing through the fence and hitting a tree.”
Following the accident, Jennifer was hospitalized with head injuries, a fractured orbit and underwent three surgeries.
Surprisingly, she wasn’t shaken after the accident, saying: “It’s really weird. Right now, I don’t think it bothers me.
“I thought it might be one of those things, as a teenager I just didn’t think about it too much.
“I just thought, let’s jump back, nothing was going to touch me when I was in high school.”
Jennifer added: “I didn’t know I had neurosis and that gave me a lot of love, courage and staying power.
“Later in life I had a lot of anxiety attacks, not necessarily related to that, but I had GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and PTSD, but I’m sure a lot of that was broken down.
“I did things like getting into a car I didn’t know who was driving, or driving a car that wasn’t supposed to be on the road, which wasn’t smart.
“I don’t think I realized how bad it was, and I hadn’t dealt with a lot of it at the time.”
The following year, Jennifer, who was involved in another wrecked car accident, said: “A friend of a friend was driving at night.
“I didn’t know them, but our mutual friends were in the car.
“They all actually left the scene after the accident. I was injured in the back.”
A few months later, Jennifer bought herself a new car, which cost her only $150. Unbeknownst to her, there was a hole in the floor that was not suitable for driving, which eventually resulted in a crash.
She said: “I got onto a highway and it was winter and it was icy.
“Fortunately, there wasn’t much traffic on the motorway and I did a full spin and made a full turn on the road.
“I’m fine, but if someone’s on the highway it could be worse.”
A year later, the hood of another car Jennifer was driving exploded on the dual carriageway.
She also had a flat tire three times and crashed into a concrete barrier on the highway.
“Fortunately we didn’t drive too fast because there was a lot of traffic and then again because we went too fast we got a flat tire but luckily the people behind us responded well,” she said.
Another incident happened when Jennifer was a passenger in her then-boyfriend’s car.
She said: “We were going through an intersection and another car ran its lights and hit us.
“I had injuries and had to have physiotherapy for my head and neck, as well as some cuts and burns.”
Jennifer experienced another accident in a cheap car when a wire from one of the taillights came loose and it sent a spark that set her entire trunk on fire.
“I remember being pissed off because I had a great black and white zebra lip jacket. I was pissed off because it burned down, like, don’t worry about cars,” she laughs.
At 24, Jennifer was driving from South Florida to Tallahassee, en route to her best friend’s wedding, when her car broke down again.
Jennifer was driving on a two-lane road when a semi-truck on her right tried to overtake but pushed her out of the lane.
Jennifer had nowhere to go but a ditch, and despite her honking and screaming, the truck kept going until Jennifer came out onto the grass.
She said: “It made me very uneasy driving the semi, not least because it was also the cause of my high school friend’s death.
“So I think that guy definitely impressed me more than any of them.”
Jennifer’s 13th car accident was when she was rear-ended at a traffic light in 1999.
She said: “Someone decided not to stop and go right through me.
“Again, I had a lot of injuries to my neck and I had to be in physical therapy for about four months and had to have C6 surgery. Even now, I’m getting nerve injections in my neck.”
Jennifer has been provisionally licensed since moving to Belfast in 2001 and has not re-sit the exam due to anxiety.
She believes that having been through so many car accidents has changed her perspective on life, she said: “A lot of people will say, you are so unlucky, but I am grateful and feel that I am very lucky.
“I say to my two sons, no matter what situation you’re in, it’s always going to get worse and it’s always going to get better.
“These accidents have caused me physical pain and affected my mental health, but many of them could have been worse.”
On whether she would drive again, Jennifer said: “I don’t think so.
“It was weird because part of me thought I’d be more confident behind the wheel because I’d be in control.
“I think I’ve pushed my luck on driving,” she said with a laugh.