Distracted driver turns nightmare experience into beacon of hope
Glory days. We all have them. A youthful time we fondly remember.
When 41-year-old Ben Pohl reminisces about his teenage years, he thumbs through the memories of peaceful small-town life in West Liberty, Iowa. He thinks back on the feelings of invincibility that come with being 17. He smiles at his title of class clown. His eyes light up when he thinks about the vintage Volkswagen Beetle he and his father rebuilt—the car of his dreams.
Ben’s feelings switch from indestructible to completely broken when reflections land on March 15, 1997. That’s the day he nearly died.
“I remember back in March, that night,” Ben starts with the kind of heavy sigh that signifies, even 23 years later, it’s still hard for him to think about. “It was a Friday. My friends wanted to go to a party.”
He slid behind the wheel while four friends piled in around him. It was dark. No one buckled up. They were excited, laughing and joking as Ben sped down the interstate at upwards of 80 mph. Those distractions mixed to create a horrific accident that left bystanders wondering how anyone could have survived.
“I rolled that car probably 10 times,” he says.
Miraculously, none of his passengers suffered serious injury, despite one person having been ejected through the rearview window. Ben, however, wasn’t as lucky.
“My friend found me, blood all over,” explains Ben, who had been ejected through the driver’s door. “I was breathing blood. My lungs were collapsed. My teeth were knocked backwards because I hit the ground with my face. Right away I was taken to the ER. The doctors said, ‘This guy’s gone, man. This guy’s done.’ I was in a coma for a month.”
The super-human strength that teenage Ben thought made him invincible may not have prevented life-threating injuries, but it certainly carried him through recovery. He had broken bones, including a broken back. He couldn’t walk or talk after coming out of the coma, yet after months of hard work and determination he managed to re-learn those skills. While classmates experienced the milestones that come with high school’s senior year, Ben spent that year in rehabilitation.
Today, he still lives with the damage done to his body that cold March night. His speech is slowed. His hand-eye coordination is delayed. The right side of his body is affected. He can’t run or hold a glass of water. But, he certainly doesn’t let physical adversity stop him from achieving his goals. Ben, an aspiring automotive shop owner, lives in Chicago today. He has a degree in recreational therapy, a second bachelor’s in automotive technology and a master’s in public administration.
He’s also a public speaker who’s dedicated to putting an end to distracted driving. Ben travels the country educating people about the preventable danger, using his personal journey as a catalyst for change. He says he wants audiences to ask themselves if it’s “really worth it” to take their attention off the road. When he learned about the Worth It campaign sponsored by UFG Insurance, he was eager to share his story again.
“I got really excited about Worth It,” Ben says. “I know that it’s a great cause.”
“Getting a person to willingly want to change and put that phone down is a huge battle. UFG is doing a great job sharing the importance of safe driving, and I try to get through to people by telling them my personal story of driving distracted and the huge effect it had on my life. All efforts by anyone are fantastic—the more, the better.”
Visit benpohlspeaks.com to learn even more about Ben’s inspirational story and see how his journey has touched the lives of those around him.