What it’s like to survive a head-on collision

Beyond the numbers

The wreckage of local resident Petenia Pfnister’s car sits in a junkyard after a head-on collision just south of Moab near Wilson Arch last month. She came out with several injuries and a hospital stay, but she feels “extremely blessed” to be alive. Photo courtesy of Todd Pfnister

Around 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 12 on her way home from work, Moab resident Petenia Pfnister collided head-on with a truck towing a covered trailer. Pfnister was in a 65 mile per hour zone on Highway 191 south of Moab. The collision broke her left arm in a couple of places, damaged her left ankle and her left hand, but she survived.

Pfnister said that the collision occurred after the truck, which was traveling southbound just south of Wilson Arch, crossed into oncoming traffic. She tried to turn out of the truck’s way, but when she realized that she wouldn’t have enough room between the truck and the guard rail, she braced for impact.

Pfnister said that one of the most shocking aspects of the collision was the sound she heard—the ear-splitting crunch of metal and shattering of glass—as the truck and her Ford Explorer–a government car she drives for her job at the Bureau of Land Management–collided.

Her seatbelt and airbag contributed to her survival, Pfnister said, something for which she feels “extremely blessed.” Because her car was impacted on the front and side, she said all of the airbags activated during the collision.

Pfnister said that her Explorer “did an amazing job” keeping her alive during the crash, and the first responders who came to her aid deserve “tons of kudos” for their work.

Due to her injuries she has only this week returned to work, but on a limited basis.

Pfnister is among hundreds of others who have survived collisions on Highway 191. The accompanying story examines how these collisions happen and what can be done to prevent them.