Out of Control

This morning, as I was driving to work, my car was hit by a moving vehicle. I was doing the speed limit, 60 kmph, along a main, 2-lane road, at the time of impact.

I’m not sure how fast the other driver was going. I had right of way, and from the left lane I was driving in, it’s impossible at peak hour to see cars trying to cross that 2-lane intersection, due to the semi-trailers that bank up for blocks in the right lane, blocking vision of the cross-street from the far/left lane, and vice versa. The right lane banks up with trucks because a block further up it becomes a right-turn-only lane onto a main route for trucks carting containers to and from the ports. The left lane, which I drive in every morning to work, usually moves along at a regular speed, because it continues straight ahead –  a road less travelled.

As I drove, I was thinking about work, and singing along to Sleigh Bells, (the band, not the instruments), and the first thing I registered that was out of the ordinary was the noise – a loud crash and the sounds of breakage. Then, for a confusing second or so, my brain struggled to understand the view through the windscreen. (Strangely, I don’t recall feeling the impact of the hit at all – at that stage, the crashing sound could have been a car hitting a car nearby as far as I was aware.)

The confusing scene I was trying to make sense of was the rapidly changing sight of cars and semi-trailers around me as I spun 180 degrees amongst them. There was noise to go with this vision, perhaps a kind of scraping sound. My brain caught up, and, putting sound and vision together, realised that my car had been hit and was spinning around.

It must have taken at least a second, or two, or who knows, maybe it was up to three, to get to that point where I had a cognitive response – time that could make the difference between life and death or horrific injury in some cases. I guess it just depends what’s nearby for your car to smash into in those few seconds, and also, on whether slamming brakes on sooner could actually be more detrimental in certain conditions.

It’s hard to tell you now, what my thoughts were during those 2-3 seconds. I can’t recall if I spoke out loud. I can’t recall if I felt any fear. I can recall seeing the long, low, steel trailer of a semi-trailer right in front of me as my car spun past it, perhaps at the moment when I began to realise what was happening and the danger I was in.

As the next second clicked over, and my cognitive thought caught up with what was occurring, and realised that my car was apparently spinning out of control, it seems to me that the only response I had in that instant was, how do I stop this? Survival instinct took over and overrode fear, embarrassment, or any other emotion I might have imagined I’d feel in this situation.

I braked, stopping my car neatly in a position at the side of the two lanes of traffic, facing directly into the oncoming traffic.

Once I had braked, and stopped my car’s propulsion around in a circle across 2 lanes of traffic, I tried to re-start the engine so that I could move the car around the corner next to where I had come to a stop. After a few attempts it was apparent that the engine had died, so I got out to survey the wreckage.

Instantly I was swarmed (or so it felt) with people asking if I was ok. There was a young man from a factory on the corner, an elderly woman, and, a little bit further off, another man who turned out to be the driver of the other car, a taxi, with its front bumper and number plate now lying on the footpath nearby. (apart from a small bit of number plate that was melded to the door of my car).  A second young man emerged from the same factory on the corner to ask if I was ok and let me know that if I needed to sit down I could come in to the factory.

As I stood there, surrounded by people who were all being as helpful and kind as possible, having the required conversations – what happened? are you alright? are you sure you’re alright? were you the other driver? did you see what happened? Call a tow truck now because you might have to wait an hour – and amidst that, calling work to say I wouldn’t be in, leaving a message for my partner, trying to take down the details of the other driver, calling the tow truck, hearing from the elderly woman how she had come over because once her car had been flipped over in a similar situation and she usually has Rescue Remedy on her but didn’t have any today – I silently surveyed my totalled car. I could not understand firstly the mechanics of how it had ended up where it had, and secondly, how I had managed to spin 180 degrees within 2 lanes of traffic, and apparently be thrust, backwards, from where I must have started out, without hitting any vehicles after the first impact.

After half an hour, the other people began to dwindle away. The kindly, elderly woman was assured that I was ok, and went on her way. The factory workers were thanked, and they headed back across the road to the factory. The taxi driver drove his damaged taxi away – perhaps it will only require some panel-beating. I stood there, alone, next to my poor, totalled car, by the side of the main road I had recently ricocheted across, waiting for the tow truck. It was a drag, sure, and it had thrown my day right out – but I couldn’t help thinking how lucky I was to be standing there for all the world like someone with a simple flat tyre.

We know that life can change in a matter of seconds but it’s always sobering to be reminded of this so clearly. I’d wasted time this morning thinking about something as trivial as what music to listen to in the car on the 10 minute journey to work, and now that car was a write-off. And if some other detail had been different, those few seconds could have changed my life forever. If the road had been wet, say, or if I’d been going faster at time of impact, I could have been seriously injured, have sustained a major brain injury, a neck or spinal injury, lost an eye, or a limb, or my life.

Is it common after an experience like this, to muse about what could have happened, or is that just something I tend to do? Perhaps, as someone suggested, it’s not helpful to dwell on the things that could have happened, but then again, I’m not quite sure. Maybe it IS useful to acknowledge that worse scenarios could have occurred, because in light of that, what did happen can be seen as cause for thankfulness rather than regret.

I just had an accident where my car spun 180 degrees in a few seconds, across and amongst moving traffic, and I walked away, minus a car, but with not a single scratch, and (so far) not even a headache.

So yes, of course I’m annoyed.

I’m annoyed that I have no car now, and at a time when finances are very tight, insurance will probably only pay me out about $4000 towards a replacement car. I’m annoyed that the next few weeks without a car will be full of tedious minor annoyances as two adults negotiate the logistics of getting to and from everywhere we need to go, and ferrying and picking up our teenage daughter from the places she needs to go, without a single car between the three of us. I’m very annoyed that I just paid over $200 to have the car serviced 2 weeks ago. I’m annoyed that I also paid $45 to fill it with petrol 3 days ago. (I pause to wonder who will benefit from that almost-full tank of petrol, and assume it will be the towing company.)

I’m annoyed that the car insurance doesn’t cover provision of a hire car when we have no car at all. I’m annoyed that just a few minutes earlier on that trip, I sat at a turning arrow and contemplated turning left and taking a different route, but decided to stick with my usual route. I’m annoyed that I just paid for a term of yoga classes I now won’t be able to get to. I’m annoyed that I didn’t leave home earlier, or plan to come in later, so that I wouldn’t have been at that spot right at that second.

But at the same time, like Pollyanna was, I’m thankful, relieved, and glad.

I’m thankful that I came out of such a scary accident unscathed. I’m relieved that the car did not flip over, or hit any other vehicle while it was out of control. I’m glad I didn’t have my daughter in the car with me. I’m glad there was no passenger, particularly that there was not someone sitting on the driver’s side of the car. I’m glad I wasn’t going any faster. I’m glad that I didn’t get there a second later or earlier, because the dangerous thing with the game of “if only,” is that you can’t know what difference a few seconds either way might have made.

I’m glad I didn’t pay to have the hole in the windscreen fixed, because what a waste of money that would have been! I’m glad I didn’t pay to have it washed at a car wash on Monday. (Something I never do but did seriously consider this week as it was so filthy!) I’m thankful that the person who smashed into me was cooperative and friendly. I’m thankful for the young men from the factory and the elderly woman who stopped and contributed her supportive presence.

I’m thankful that I’m here, writing about this.

 

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7 Comments

  1. Wow. You know what: it is good to have those thoughts. You were lucky. And it’s good to appreciate it as well. Glad you are okay!

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    • Yeah that’s what I thought too. I was very lucky, as the bunches of flowers tied to posts at certain intersections (including one just up from that one) serve to remind us. Thanks for reading!

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  2. That’s crazy! Despite the financial impact you do sound very lucky. Hopefully you can get to work without too much hassle, and you sort out your other public transport options. You must have felt like a stunt driver, I’m gonna think of you as ‘The Fall Guy’ (Lee Majors)!

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    • Yeah I can get a train or bus to/from most places….the hassle will mostly be logistics around picking up the kid. Thanks for yr comment, I’m definitely lucky!

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  3. Wow, I’m glad you’re okay. This sort of incident does make you think about what could have happened. Sounds like you were very lucky.
    After something like this, I really hate those thoughts you mentioned – “if I’d turned left instead of right”…

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    • Yeah, those thoughts pop up alright, but I tried not to dwell on them. No point, is there? Yes, if I’d turned earlier, while I had a turning arrow, I’d still have a car now, and not be looking forward to lots of boring weekends spent looking for a replacement car. But no point pondering that, because I can’t change what did happen.

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  4. hi there !

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