05 September 2012

Close call

What gets your adrenalin going in the morning?  A loud alarm clock?  A good strong cup of coffee/tea?  Shower?  A good run?  How about a good old fashioned, bone crunching fender bender?     

Another typical morning.  Get up, let the dogs out, start the coffee, check the e-mail/blogs, walk the dogs, shower, armor up for the day, let the dogs out again, head off to the salt mines.  My plan is to break camp and hit the road before 0700 (used to be much earlier) to avoid congestion through two school zones.  After 0700, traffic starts to build up and you run the risk of getting caught in the flock of buses departing the bus barn.  

This morning I was running late.  Missed the 0700 start time by a few minutes so I had pretty much resigned myself to a longer commute with more traffic.  One of the first (of many) lights to hit was down the road from the house about 3 miles.  Typically backed up turning north and you have to wait for one, maybe two cycles to make the light.  This morning, the line was backed up a bit further so I was waiting in the left turning lane for the light to go green.  At this point, things were pretty much going normal, typical traffic, typical mindless commute along the same route that I have done every day for the past 10+ years.   

For some reason, I noticed a few things that would have not normally had any lasting impression.  In front of me, the car had stopped short allowing a space for cars to cross the two lanes into the local McDonald's.  The right the lane of traffic was clear with people hurrying up to make the right hand turn at the corner.  On the right, a woman with a black late model Altima had just pulled up to wait for an opening in traffic to turn across our lane to head west.  At this point, my spidey sense kicked in as I began to see things unfold.  To the front, oncoming traffic as people headed west along the boulevard.  A Grey Ford F150 was hoofing it to make the turn into the gap to cross our lane into the McDonald's parking lot.  My peripheral vision picked up a tan Ford Explorer in my mirrors heading east in the adjacent lane next to mine at a pretty good clip.  Now the soldier in me is always keeping an eye out for potential threats/danger while the engineer in me was doing the mental calculation of speed, acceleration, braking and vehicle mass.  All of this was going on in a blink of an eye as I saw the F150 turn into our lane and recognized the Explorer was coming in hot.  My initial response was:  "Gee, I wonder if he is going to make it?".  That quickly then turned into "Crap.  I don't think he's going to make it." which then turned into "Oh, Shit.  He's NOT going to make it.".  I had a first class, front row seat to a classic slow motion, driver's ed version of what we would call a "T-Bone" wreck where the Explorer rammed the side of the F150 and pushed both of them into the front end of the Altima (remember, she was sitting there waiting for her turn).  Instant three car pile up.  Many of the cars waiting in line were stunned to see this unfold right in our laps.  I was going to stop, but everyone appeared OK and no serious injuries.  Altima lady had the sense to back her car up a few feet to clear the way.  Explorer guy was stunned by his airbag deployment.  F150 guy was shaken up but able to get out of his truck.  From a quick assessment, I figure both the F150 and Explorer were totaled.  The Altima looked to be fixable with some front end work.  In most accidents, somebody made an error that let to the event.  Distractions, taking chances, speeding, all contribute to the accident.  If I had to assess blame, I would probably tag F150 for not checking the lane of traffic before he crossed, but I would also fault Explorer guy for definitely going too fast for the situation.  The one person I felt empathy for was Altima lady.  Sitting there in her newish car with her egg McMuffin and coffee minding her own business when she had two trucks try to merge into the same grid space right on top of her.     
They say that, when you are in a wreck, time slows down and you remember a lot more details of the event.  I gotta admit that, while not directly involved in the wreck, I recall all of the little details with distinct clarity.  

Quick survey – how many have ever been in a traffic accident?  Or had one unfold right in front of you?  

I’ll have to admit that, in my younger (and more stupid) days, I wasn't necessarily the most attentive driver and I have racked up a few “fender benders”.  For the record (and it is a long record), I have had/experienced/participated in/caused:

    3 motorcycle wrecks (two off-road)
    4 car wrecks (one not my fault) 
    1 spin out (black ice)
    1 bicycle wreck
    1 tank/jeep encounter (not the driver)
    1 jeep/bus encounter (not the driver)

Not really proud of that record.  I consider myself lucky.  Sometimes, Life comes at you fast and you had best be prepared.  


Rock Chef said...

I have seen a couple of accidents - one caused by someone dithering about overtaking me on my bike and getting rearended in the process :-(

The worst one I saw was when I was a teenager. A driver fell asleep on the motorway, crossed the lanes and hit someone headon. Combined speeds of well over 100mph. There was a lot of screaming and not everyone lived to tell the tale. This is probably one of the reasons I have never wanted to drive!

ShadowRun300 said...

First, isn't it funny how leaving 2 minutes later can actually lead to a delay much longer than that.
I feel pretty lucky, myself. I've had one major accident where I rolled my car but came out uninjured. I've also spun my Mustang out on the interstate during a heavy snow, where thank God, none of the other cars ran into me. Other than that, I've been involved in just a few fender benders where I wasn't the driver, and I HEARD the wreck of 5 cars behind me while exiting a concert last month. I'm surprised with my long commute that I haven't seen more. (Knock on wood....)
Glad to hear you weren't involved in all the hoopla that morning!

Abby said...

First of all, as I started reading this, I was afraid you were going to say that YOU had the fender bender. Glad that you were merely a witness.
I too feel sorry for Altima lady. What a way to ruin a perfectly good egg mcmuffin.

I've had a few close calls, but thankfully, no real involvement in car crashes. Part of that is because I don't drive much. Also, maybe there's some engineer/crossing guard sense that makes me pay a little more attention than the average driver.

meleah rebeccah said...

HOLY CRAP. Holy. Crap.

I've been in a few accidents, and I've seen a few accidents. Always horrifying. And also, you're right, somehow time seems to move in slow motion during an accident.

terri said...

I dread witnessing something like that. Glad to hear everyone was ok.

I have had a few accidents. My first - I made a left turn in front of another car. He t-boned me. My fault. I was young.

The 2nd - I pulled out of a parking space in front of another car and hit her. Again, my fault. (Kid was distracting me and pointing.)

The 3rd - Got rear-ended in the middle of rush hour traffic. Minor. Other driver's fault.

I am seeing a lot of the kind of back-ups you describe - sitting at a light through 2 or 3 cycles. There is so much road construction around here. Definitely a test of patience!