Thursday, October 18, 2012

My Car Crash

     Do bad things happen in bundles?  If so, how big are the bundles, and when do they end?
     Two weeks ago, I was driving home from work on four-lane Highway 20 in the drizzling rain.  The speed limit is 65 mph, but I was going 55.  I had lost my cell phone two weeks prior, so my hands were both on the steering wheel and my attention was on the road.
     A car pulled out in front of me.  I pressed on the brakes, calculated my options, swerved to avoid T-boning him--but with just thirty yards of lead time--couldn't avoid hitting his rear end.  His car spun around twice, hitting the flashing red stoplight, and mine lost power and brakes.  I pulled onto the grassy shoulder of the road far ahead.
     Here's the part I want to try to understand.
     I made sure my son, Carmine, was okay.  We walked back to the scene of the accident and saw the driver of the other car walking with a wide-based gait--glad he was alive, I thought.
     "Can you call 9-1-1 for me?" he asked, handing me his phone.
     "Why can't you call?" I responded.
     "I can't dial it," he said.
     So I made the call, reported the accident, and watched the driver.
     When the police and highway patrol fellows arrived, and were taking down information, I asked why they weren't doing a sobriety test.
     "What do you mean?"  they asked.
     "Why aren't you alcohol tesing that driver--and me, too, for that matter?"
     "He doesn't smell of alcohol," one officer asnwered politely.
     "Since when is your nose the gold-standard for deciding whether a person's judgment is impaired?" I asked.
     "Ma'am," he answered.  "We have other methods for determining what's needed in situations like this."
     "Like what?"
     "His eyes aren't bloodshot, for instance."
     "It takes a lot of alcohol for that to happen," I said.
     "And he seems to be walking okay," the office went on.
     "But he couldn't dial his phone after the accident, and a witness told me she thought he seemed 'under the influence..'"
     "The state allows us to make the determination about alcohol testing," the officer informed me.
     "That driver made a very poor decision when he pulled out in front of me.  He could not have been looking for oncoming traffic.  I would like to request, formally, that an alcohol test be done on him," I stated.  "It matters to me."
     "You don't seem to understand," the officer said, as though I were straining his patience.  "We don't carry breathalizers in every car.  We have to call someone to bring us one, when we need it."
     "Would you please call a police car with a breathalizer?"
     "Ma'am," he said, "those devices cost about $10,000 each.  We only use them when we need them."
     "I think one is needed now," I said.
     "Please, let us do our job," he replied.
     "No wonder there are so many drunk drivers on the road," I answered.  Then, the officer laughed.
     We waited two hours for the tow truck.  I understood, standing in the rain and swarmed by mosquitoes, why they call this place a swampland.
     When my insurance agent called to record my version of the accident, she told me that I would have to pay a $1,000 deductible, unless the other driver's insurance company agreed that it was all his fault.
     "But it was all his fault," I said.  "He violated the right of way."
     "They'll argue against that, as they always do," she told me.
     "But, if he'd had an alcohol test, and it was positive, would they still argue against it?"  I asked.
     "Certainly not," she said.  "Then they'd pay it."
     Do we really leave it up to the discretion of police officers, at the scene of an accident, to determine the need for a sobriety testing--even when gross misjudgment is the cause?   Shouldn't every person be tested, at every accident, as a way of curtailing drunk driving?  Or are people like me just supposed to feel "lucky" when we sidestep death, as my son and I did, that night?
     I do feel lucky, but the next person might not.

Paranoid postscript:  I told this story to a relative (someone following my blog) who asked if the "accident" might have been planned, and the driver who pulled in front of me a hit man.  It's true, he was driving an ex-police car, and he pulled into oncoming traffic as though blind, and in slow motion. But really, who would want to do something like that, to me?  What could be the motive?  I told my well-meaning relative to chill out.


  1. I'm sorry about what happened to you and your car, Ona. Were there any damages inflicted on your car? If so, then, I assume you took photos of the damages with your phone or camera. If ever there were witnesses, I hope you got their contact information. You'll need them. Well, it would be better if you consulted with local attorney for any decisions regarding fault or negligence before making your final decision. Judging from your story, you can win this case.

    1. Rachel's right, Ona. Consulting a local attorney would be the best option in your case to make it easier for you to decide. When it comes to car accidents, it’s important to get as much information as possible - take some notes. Your lawyer will need them and so will you when you’ll be claiming for compensation.

  2. I didn't write this post with the intention of claiming a compensation or getting legal representation. I don't need more legal issue in my life right now! But thanks for the information.