Coming home from Balboa Park the two days ago, I got into a car accident on the freeway and I handled the whole thing in a totally uncharacteristic way.

A car re-entered the freeway slowly from the shoulder, causing the guy in the first lane to swerve into the guy in the second lane, causing that guy to hit me a glancing blow on the right side as I swerved into what was luckily an open space. I looked in the rear view mirror and could see some dust and debris flying up in the air but it didn’t look like anyone was spinning out or slowing down or pulling over.

By instinct and training, I knew I was supposed to pull over to the side of the road, exchange information, and call my insurance company, but at the moment that just seemed like an enormous fucking hassle.

Strangely enough, I was uncharacteristically calm. I did not feel shaken up at the close call and wasn’t feeling that huge adrenalin rush that usually accompanies such a moment; I wasn’t angry at the idiot who had caused the mess; I just felt annoyed that I might get sucked into some god-awful mess when everything had happened so fast that I didn’t even know the color of the car that had hit me.

So, I just decided to drive on and hope the damage to my car was as minimal as I imagined that it was. I was kind of surprised at my reaction but figured it this way:

First of all, I was most definitely a victim. Through no stretch of the imagination could I have been considered at fault. I got hit in a chain reaction and had luckily avoided hitting anyone else. It didn’t really occur to me that someone could have been seriously hurt, but I suppose that was a possibility. I just didn’t feel it was my job to stop and try to sort things out.

Secondly, I didn’t want to get into the legal hassles that were going to follow a chain-reaction accident. This had happened to me once before when I was sitting at a stoplight and a young woman plowed into a car, three cars behind me. I ended up being the last in line to get popped, just enough to get some free chiropractic and massage treatments. But I also got sued by someone in the line who sued everyone involved in the accident even though I had no possibility of being at fault. I called my insurance and the guy said, “Yeah, this happens all the time. It’s why you have us.” The estimate was that it would take 3 months and $6– $10,000 to extricate me from the suit. I did not want to go through that again.

Lastly, I’m not crazy about the car I own now. It’s a small 2007 SUV that I’d like to replace, but it only costs me about $500 a year to insure and it’s paid for. It is eminently reliable and functional for hauling around my yard and garden stuff. I’ll probably drive it until it dies. All the dings are on the passenger side, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s in pretty pristine condition as long as I don’t walk all the way around it.

It did vaguely occur to me that I had “left the scene of an accident” and that I might get a visit from the Highway Patrol if someone had been fast enough to get my license, but for me, someone who worries about just about everything, I felt oddly unconcerned. You could say that it barely put a dent in my day.

2 thoughts on “Ooops!

  1. I got in an accident several months ago in Houston. We were both backing out of our parking spaces. Like you, I immediately thought about the time-sucking hassle of waiting for police to come write a report…

    We exchanged insurance info and my company decided we were equally at fault so we were both responsible for our own damage. Even so, they ended up sending her $500 to cover half of her $1,000 bill. I had a small scratch on the bumper of my 2003 Toyota Land Cruiser – so I really couldn’t care less. She definitely got the worst of it – probably because she was out further than me and already starting her pivot.

    The whole thing nagged on me because, in my heart, I believed it was more my fault than hers. (I also recalled her reaction to whatever her husband was saying to her over the phone that day. She got smaller everyone he spoke to her.)

    Just before Christmas, I sent her a check for $500. It was as much to make her whole as to clear my conscience.

    It would have been satisfying enouh if she just cashed it without saying a word, but she called me in tears of appreciation and also wrote me a nice thank you note.

    There are probably a lot of takeaways from the whole situation. One that comes to mind is advice I heard from Harvey Mackay decades ago: “If you have a problem, and you can afford to write a check to solve it, you don’t have a problem.”

    Of course, this message from Stephen Covey might be more applicable: “There is no right way to do the wrong thing.” I should have offered to pay for her damages in the first place – no police and no insurance companies – like I did the last time I was in an accident that was also my fault.

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