What is “threading the needle”? 

I became interested in the idea of threading the needle after reporting on an intersection collision in rural Iowa that killed three people. The accident occurred in Washington, Iowa on May 23, 2009. I reported on it in a blog dated May 26th. Here is the blog post if you’re interested to review it.

Multi-car-truck collision in rural Iowa kills two - One vehicle 3 collisions and then catches fire.

One commenter raised the question of whether the young driver was attempting to thread the needle. Another commenter seemed irate about that being suggested and after the dust settled I left the comment alone because it appeared to me to be fair for discussion. So I’ve been asking myself, what is threading the needle and are the kids in Washington County, Iowa doing it? I was not able to locate any video on YouTube involving the Ellen DeGenerus show and threading the needle. If anyone has it please send us the link.

“It is my opinion that teenagers pay only lip service to the idea of driving safely. To be a teen is to risk your life and survive to tell the tale. If somehow these teens had performed that much-viewed feat seen on Ellen Degeneres and YouTube, where an SUV "threads the needle" between two cars at an intersection at highway speed.”


Partial comment, Posted by VCDaedalus on May 28, 2009 8:41 AM.

Well low and behold another commenter later asked the same question and pointed out about a more recent collision in Washington County. Whatever the case may be the Courts need to get tough on the kids in Washington County and figure out if that is what is going on down there.

Posted by Gordon D
July 11, 2009 9:07 AM

Another "accident" in Washington County, where and I state from the local paper "According to reports from the Washington County Sheriff's Office, at about 11:13 a.m. Thursday, a green 2004 Saturn driven by Zachary Ryan Bonebrake of Keota was westbound on 190th Street east of Ginkgo. According to report, the vehicle didn't stop at a stop sign at the intersection of Ginkgo and 190th and stuck a gray 2000 Chevy S-10 driven by Russell Albert Yoder of Richland in the intersection." Is this another possible case of "threading the eye of the needle." From the talk here in Washington, Iowa, by the High School age drivers, yes.

I’ve checked but am not able to confirm this collision or the people stated by Gordon D as being involved. So I can’t say the collision occurred or if it did that it happened as reported. But the idea is one that parents, law enforcement, lawyers and judges need to be aware.

Here is threading the needle with a car while crossing an intersection in heavy traffic. It's very dangerous and scary.

Let’s assume that young adults are brave, stupid or crazy enough to try this. If they are we have to wonder where young adults are getting the idea to attempt this. I was surprised how prevalent the idea is and how often the term “thread the needle” is used in our society. News reporters use the terms, as do coaches and even parents. It's used in sports, leisure activities and for anything where competition to one-up the next guy is involved.


Threading the needle refers to performing some action at a high rate of speed through a narrow opening. You might wonder why parents and lawyers need to know what threading the needle involves. Well, your child may be threading the needle with your family car and kill someone; in which case the lawyers need to understand either how much trouble their client is in or to plead for punitive damages against the driver who unsuccessfully tried to thread the needle causing injury to the client.  Parents need to know about this because as owners of the cars their kids drive they are legally responsible for their driving accidents that cause injury and death.


How about if we look around to see how this term is used today in American society, who is using it and in what context. You'd never believe responsible parents would allow it to be taught; would you? And I'm sure we doubt our schools are teaching it to our children. Right? And certainly coaches aren't teaching it. Certainly not.

As parents we can in some ways be teaching the skill of threading the needle. While it may be cute at a young age, it does teach the idea of thrill seeking that can later lead to serious injury or death. Here is a young snowboarder, about 6 years of age, threading the needle. From the sound of the voice on the recording it appears to be an older man, which I’m assuming is the boy’s father proudly recording his young son while threading the needle on a snowboard.

Here a very young wrestler “threads the needle” using a half-nelson while rolling the opponent over onto his back for a pin.

Here it is with a plane flying at over 100 mph through a hole in a rock formation.

Threading the needle in a jet boat on a lake or river in this case involved driving at a high rate of speed between two trees. Of course this isn’t the smartest thing to do because if you have two dead trees there may be a stump between the two that can puncture the hull of your boat sending the occupants overboard where they can suffer a head or neck injury leading to traumatic brain damage, paralysis, quadriplegia, paraplegia or death.

Children are being introduced to this idea at a very young age. In this video about concerning how to win a video game involving combat the instructor tells us how the Wolverine threads the needle. Threading the Needle on the X-Men game involves moving Wolverine through a narrow opening; in this case a ring.

There is threading the needle with radio controlled model planes as well. In this video the RC Plane operator shows us how to fly the plane through a narrow opening created by two palm trees.

Threading the needle with a truck refers to driving it through a narrow opening. As you can see in this video clip the narrow opening through which the driver threads the needle is a narrow pass.

In dance threading the needle refers to a maneuver whereby one leg that is being held is used to create a narrow opening in which the dancer hops on one leg and threads the free leg over the leg and by the arm that holds it. Here watch it’s easier to see than for me to explain.

Here is another example of how to perform this break dancing maneuver.

And in this video tape threading the needle is introduced as “entertainment”, it being a part of the game. The idea is introduced to teenagers and young adults through a combat video game where the participant is a pilot flying at a high rate of speed through and around skyscrapers eventually being ejected and skydiving to an island.

Here is another entertainment version of threading the needle by a skateboarder lying down on the board while threading under fixed objects.

EA Skate 2 More Dam coffin shenanigans ~ successfully threading the needle!

This idea of TTN is about having the skill to take the risk and to avoid injury. Here we have a skateboarder demonstrating threading the needle over a chain.

Our society encourages developing skills enabling us to be entertained by maneuvers that expose the participants to a level of risk that can cause injury or death. The higher the risk the more exciting and highly regarded the maneuver. In this video we see a kayaker threading the needle. As a kayaker threading the needle is a maneuver taught by threading through two boulders with water rushing around and over them.

And let’s not leave snow skiing out of the mix. They too thread between two skiers who are standing still. While this skier isn’t very skillful the idea is still put out there as threading.

Football teaches threading the needle as a skill young people need to perfect. In this case it’s taught to wide receivers who drag their feet to stay inbounds as they catch a pass tossed over or very close to the out-of-bounds side line.

In this second video a girl is taught in football how to thread the needle by passing the ball between two defenders while successfully making the pass to the receiver.

The same reference is made in college football. This one involving Texas A&M at Southern Arkansas.

In car racing the concept is also introduced.

The idea is even part of snowmobiling.

Just look around you and you will see evidence of where they might be getting the idea to thread the needle. While no one can argue that throwing a pass between two defenders can be compared with recklessly driving a car through a busy intersection against a stop sign or light, you have to know that we are planting the idea out there and then handing junior the car keys giving them the means to perfect this insane maneuver.

And we wonder why this generation seems so confused.


Steve Lombardi
Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
To be young and to experiment goes hand-n-hand, but taking risks that can take you life isn't acceptable. The idea is to live another day to tell about it.
by Steve Lombardi August 17, 2010 at 08:02 AM
True enough, to be a teen means to survive long enough. Can't help it, teens got not so much experience in life.
by younf insurance drivers August 16, 2010 at 07:50 PM
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