by Iris Winston

Frances Olsen removed one more shard of glass from her leg last week.
After nearly two years, she is still finding slivers of broken
windshield under her skin.

Her husband, Bob, lives with constant pain since the vertebrae in his
neck were crushed in the same crash in July 1998.

The Olsens, en route from their home in Alexandria, Ont., to visit
family in Winnipeg, Man., were driving behind a GM pickup truck with an
externally mounted spare when the tire dropped from its steel cradle and
careened towards them.

As Mr. Olsen puts it, “We survived. Our car did not.”

The tire smashed through the top of the windshield of their 1987 Chevy
Nova and peeled back the top of its roof.

“You just watch in horror (as the tire heads towards you) knowing it’s
going to hit you,” recalls Mrs. Olsen.

The Olsens were listed as suffering “minor injuries” as a result of the
collision. They are still feeling the after effects.

Statistics on the hazards of “winch tire cable failures and spare tire
separation” indicate that Transport Canada’s Motor Vehicle Regulation
Branch has received some 400 complaints about spare tires dropping from
their cradles under light trucks, minivans and sports utility vehicles.

The Olsens are the only two people who have been injured as a direct
result of runaway tires – so far.

As they drove along the highway near Wawa, Ont., they were around 200
feet behind the pick-up.

“There was a lot of construction,” says Mr. Olsen, a retired salesman
who has been driving for some 55 years and estimates that he has driven
several million miles in that time. “You never knew when you were going
to have to stop, so nobody was driving fast.”

This highway is bounded by a guard rail and ravine on one side and a
rock face on the other, notes Mr. Olsen. “There is no place to go, no
way to escape” and no way to prepare for the shock of a tire falling off
the vehicle ahead.

“Your first reaction is pure surprise as this tire, which looks far
bigger than it is, bounces towards you in a puff of dust.”

He attempted to avoid the missile hurtling towards him by turning
towards the rock face — which he judged a better choice than the risk
of breaking through the guard rail and rolling down the ravine.

A few moments later, the tire hit the windshield and destroyed the roof
of the Nova. His wife was transported to hospital on a stretcher. He
stayed with the damaged vehicle.

“Later on, you have a sleepless night. You can’t sleep because
everything hurts.”

These days, the Olsens steer clear of any vehicles with externally
mounted spares.

“I either pass them or back right off,” says Mr. Olsen, who is a
volunteer driver for cancer patients, so is still on the road

He says that the collision also underlined that “seat belts work. If we
hadn’t had seat belts on, I don’t think we’d be here today.”

But, he says, the situation should never have happened.

“There is no need to have a tire exposed to the elements,” he says. “You
can still have room inside (the original reason for cradling the spares
in steel cables under some vehicles) if you just fit a box underneath
and have the tire slide in and out.”

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