Sunday, February 25, 2007

I brake for taillights!

So, I was on the way home this evening and got in a crash. It's depressing, and it's weird.

I don't know if you've ever been in an accident, fair reader, but it's a sort of surreal experience. It's a cliche, but we never think accidents will happen to us, and so when they don't quite mentally accept it. Sitting on the freeway tonight, looking at the crumpled hood of my car bowing upwards through a faint spiderweb of new cracks in my windshield, I marveled that less than half an hour ago, I had been mentioning to the people with whom I was eating dinner that I don't take good enough care of my car. Now, I was contemplating with 99% surety that I would never give my car another oil change. In fact, oddly enough, the last thought to cross my mind before impact was, "Well, car, it was nice knowing you..."

Anyway, I saw the brake lights in front of me and slammed on my brakes, but I really don't think my Automatic Braking System kicked in. Also, my airbag didn't deploy, and it seems like it should have since I hit pretty hard, but that's another matter. When I realized my car wasn't going to stop, and the traffic was too heavy on the left to change lanes suddenly, I swerved right towards a concrete barrier, hoping to either pass the car in front of me to the right (which I realized immediately was not going to happen) or at least transfer some of my momentum to the barrier instead of another car. Thinking back some time afterwards, I considered that I might have done well to simply grind my car into the barrier so that all damage would be taken by my car, but then hindsight's not so useful in an emergency situation.

As it is, since I was the car in back, I'm very likely to be found liable. Now, who I think should be liable is the person who was driving the car in front; in the very front. Apparently somebody's car stalled, and they took it upon themselves to simply leave their car parked on the freeway, locked, parking brake on, but no lights. My wife, who had been in a separate car passing by earlier, had called 911, and remarked to me at home that in some surreal manner, she had phoned in to report an accident that happened after she passed, and the person in the accident happened to be her husband.

I don't know why that car was there, but it presented me with an odd dilemma. The Highway Patrol showed up at the scene finally, and they instructed me and the woman I had run into to move our cars off the road. I didn't follow orders. I thought, "What happened here is that a car was parked on the freeway with no lights, and it led to an accident. If I leave, the car will still be there, and very likely, history will repeat itself." I left the lights on in my car (including hazard lights, of course) and climbed out through the passenger window (the doors would not open).

The officer was furious with me. "I told you to move your car!" I apologized, and told him that I couldn't leave the scene as another accident waiting to happen. Maybe someone would smash into my car, but I felt that without my car there and its lights on, someone would be bound to crash into the other car. I hated to leave my car. I hated to disobey an order from a law officer. I hated to walk down a busy freeway on foot. I didn't know what else to do.

Anyway, the officer gave me a lecture later, I emptied my belongings out of my car at home, and then I parked it on the street with a note assuring anyone who inspected it that it was not as abandoned as it no doubt appeared. But still, even though my car runs and can be driven, it's as good as dead, a large portion of the engine smashed in and one headlight obliterated.

It was nice knowing her...

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