Yesterday I got into a car accident for the first time.
Okay, it wasn’t really the first time. Once in high school I was driving my mom’s car when a women in her twenties and I collided in an intersection. I was turning left and she was going straight, but it wasn’t very clear to the police whose fault it was because the woman had her left turn signal on and changed lanes mid-intersection. Technically, because she was going straight, she had the right-of-way, but she’d only made the decision to drive straight once she was in the intersection. The airbags didn’t inflate. No one was injured.
This was different.
This will count, for me, as the first time I was really in a car accident. Somehow the airbags deploying made it seem that much more real. That and the fact that I really did feel like it happened in slow motion.
I’d just left work to go take some photos for a story a few minutes before the accident. I was less than two miles from the office when I stopped at a four-way stop. There were no other cars there with me. I started to move through the intersection and as I did I saw a woman coming to the stop sign on my right side, but she didn’t seem to be stopping. I knew what was happening before it did and I tried to speed up to avoid it.
She swears she stopped before slamming into the rear passenger side of my car.
The airbags and bent wheel say that’s unlikely. The police agreed.
If you have to see what airbags really look like, my wish for you is that it be like this was for me — that the impact is on the opposite side of your car from where anyone is seated. The back passenger side of the car is literally as far away from the driver as you can get.
I was alone. So was she.
The noise was terrifying, a crunching that sounded much worse than the damage shows. Immediately after she hit, I tried to brake. My car slid about 20 yards up the street, a quiet back street with almost no traffic. The car slid until I realized I’d been pressing with all of my might against the floor instead of the brake.
My car came to a stop in a diagonal position in the middle of the street. I really wasn’t hurt. I knew in that moment I hadn’t hit my head or anything, but I also didn’t feel like I was inside my own body.
I was together enough to put the car in park, but not enough to realize that I shouldn’t leave my car sitting diagonally across a street, get out and wander into the street while leaving my driver side door wide open.
I couldn’t hear out of my left ear except for the ringing that didn’t go away until I woke up this morning, but I was otherwise physically unharmed. Still, I was shaking; maybe from the shock of what I’d watched happen or the fact that I tried and couldn’t avoid it or even the scary realization that it could’ve been so much worse. Regardless, I stood in the middle of a neighborhood street shaking as I called police.
Car accidents are strange. I hear about them every single day at work. Most days I hear about a deadly crash on a local road. Sometimes I write about them.
While we waited, I thought about how many friends I’ve lost to car accidents. I thought about a number of close calls. I thought about how minor the damage was to my car and self. I put into perspective just how lucky it is to be in a crash with a strong enough impact to release the airbags and walk away with nothing worse than temporary hearing loss and an annoying ringing.
The car can be fixed and pretty soon I’ll stop doing double-takes at cars approaching intersections as I pass.