Friday, October 19, 2012


I was in a one-car accident this rainy, rainy Thursday evening-- spun out on Route 66 after hitting a patch of water. Incredibly, I wasn't going that fast-- maybe 70-ish, like the peloton of cars around me. We were travelling uphill around a slight curve when I suddenly and completely lost all traction. I skated across the road's surface as if on ice; I don't recall how many times my car spun around-- two or three times, maybe?-- but I slid gracefully into a shallow, grassy ditch and got stuck. The ass end of my car was at the ditch's bottom; my headlights shone upward, their beams cutting directly across the freeway. I tried reversing and advancing to get the car out of the ditch, but the angle was too steep and the mud and grass prevented my wheels from getting any traction.

Since I was part of a peloton when the accident happened, there were many witnesses to my wipeout. Two charitable drivers stopped-- a man and a woman. The woman got to me first; I got out of my car, and she asked whether I was OK. I told her I was fine (which was true; I still am). She told me about a near-wipeout that she had had a while back. The other driver, a guy, got out and offered to call a tow truck for me. I gratefully accepted, even though I had my own cell phone. The woman went on her way; the guy offered to let me sit in his car while we awaited the towing service. I found out his name was Chris; he works in sales and has a son in first grade. He took a cell phone pic of my car (thinking of doing that before I had thought to do the same thing), and sent it to his wife as a way of saying "I'm gonna be late tonight, honey." I talked with him a bit about my teaching job and my time in Korea; within minutes, a state trooper had arrived, and I got out of the car to speak with him.

Officer Corbin was polite, even friendly; he asked me about the road conditions, about whether I had been wearing my seat belt, how fast I'd been going, etc. He examined my car and agreed with my theory that it was still drivable. The only visible damage was to the front bumper, which had gotten mangled as I pirouetted through the muddy ditch.

In the minutes before the tow truck arrived, I found myself surrounded by six-- count 'em-- emergency vehicles: an ambulance, a large fire-and-rescue truck, another truck whose purpose was a mystery to me, another state trooper, and two SUVs that pulled over and promptly did nothing. I found out that all these vehicles had been responding to another wipeout (of which there were several on that stretch of 66), in which a car had overturned. While all six vehicles were there with me, the area around me and my car was floodlighted to the point of daytime brightness. Everyone eventually pulled away-- except for Officer Corbin and the second state trooper-- when the tow truck arrived.

Just as I had sat in Chris's car, I also spent some time inside Officer Corbin's car. He wrote up his report of the accident while I waited, and he kept me talking about myself as he wrote. That was his way of keeping me calm, I suppose, but the fact was that I was already quite calm. No shakes at all. My nerves might have been jangling with adrenaline and guilt had I had a passenger in the car, but since I was alone when all this happened, I didn't feel particularly guilty, stressed, or nervous.

Officer Corbin gave me a slip of paper: information to give to the insurance company tomorrow morning. He also said that, when I speak with the insurance company, they will likely ask (1) whether the accident has been reported by the state police, and (2) whether I have been charged. He advised me to answer "yes" to the first question-- because estimated damage of over $1500 must be reported-- and "no" to the second (which came as a relief; earlier, Chris had said it was likely I would be charged and might have a court date).

By that time, the tow truck had pulled close to my car and the driver had gotten out, so I excused myself from the front seat of the squad car and met with the driver. I told him I only wanted the car pulled out of the ditch. He said that would be a whopping $150. (No, he wasn't the one who described the price as "whopping.") Later on, he told me the normal charge for "winch-outs" was $200, so without any irony in my voice, I thanked him for the discount. He was friendly and efficient; the car came out in a trice. We agreed that, to test the car's drivability, we would drive down to the end of Exit 31 (I had plowed to a stop about 150 yards before the off-ramp; I hope to see my tire gouges when I pass that way again), at which point we would stop and discuss payment. I told Officer Corbin of our plan, and he was OK with it.

The tow truck driver did notice, however, that my front bumper was about to fall off: it was being held in place by a single plastic snap-peg. He felt the best thing to do would be simply to remove the bumper and let me drive home bumperless, but he wondered about how legal that would be. I walked over to Officer Corbin, who was with the second state trooper, and asked him about the bumper situation. He felt it wouldn't be a problem, nor would driving bumperless to work this coming Saturday. He told me that, if I were to get pulled over, I should show that piece of paper he had given me earlier-- the one for the insurance company-- to the apprehending officer.

So the tow truck driver removed my bumper, and we stowed it in my hatchback. I thanked everyone profusely for their help. I eventually got in my car and followed the tow truck driver onto the off-ramp at Exit 31. We stopped, I got into the towman's truck, and we hashed out the pay and the paperwork. We also agreed that my poor Honda's nose job would probably have to happen at a body shop or at a Honda dealership (I bought my car in Winchester, which isn't far away from where I live). The driver tried to be reassuring; he mentioned that he'd once had a bumper job done for as little as-- bing-- $150. That figure again.

We shook hands, and just as I was about to get out of the truck, Officer Corbin knocked on the passenger door. He said he'd had a change of heart: he was no longer going to report the accident because my car was perfectly drivable, and because he couldn't see that a mere bumper replacement was going to cost over $1500. So he advised me to tell the insurance company that he was not reporting the incident, which was good news: no info would go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, nothing would go on my record, and there was a good chance my insurance premiums wouldn't be affected.

All business concluded, and with everyone heading off to their respective destinations, I drove home. My brother David, whom I had texted, was waiting for my phone call; I called him around midnight once I was safely back in my palatial apartment. David seemed to feel that there was no reason to report the accident to my insurance company at all: just pay out of pocket for everything and have done. I told David that I'd need reimbursement for the cost of towing and for any repairs, so I would need to tell my insurance company what had happened. David advised me not to call the insurance folks until I had gotten a firm lock on the cost to replace the bumper.

There's little else to report. I do feel amazingly lucky: tonight's accident could have been so much worse-- both in terms of personal injury and in terms of my finances. I somehow managed to pick a smooth, slick, fairly shallow ditch in which to dunk myself, for starters. I didn't hit anyone else while I was spinning out, despite the crowd of cars. The car didn't sustain any major damage to the wheels, axles, or undercarriage. I haven't been charged with "failure to maintain control of vehicle," or whatever the term is. I wasn't going fast enough to end up in a rollover, thank Cthulhu. I didn't get injured. And I wasn't nearly as shaken up as I could have been: if anything, I felt as if I'd just gotten out of a roller coaster ride-- pumped, weirdly elated, but not a trembling mess at all. I was calm the entire time, which is another satisfying test of how I handle crises. The only urgent question clanging in my brain, as I was spinning wildly, was Am I going to roll over? But that didn't happen.

So all's well that ends well. I drove home bumperless-- which made my car look like an angry robot-- and I did end up taking pictures of the wreck, which I offer to you now:



Charles said...

Glad to hear you're OK, dude. Sounds like you got the best possible result there (barring not having an accident at all, of course).

Smallholder said...


I agree with your brother. If the total cost is around $300 for tow and bumper, you are not going to recoup much after your deductible. And what you do recoup will end up raising your premiums a greater amount than what you save. My two cents.

Most importantly, I'm glad it ended without damage to the hominid. Cars are expendable - people aren't.

Bratfink said...


So glad you are OK. Too bad you couldn't have played with the lights and siren when you were in the cop car. Think about that if you ever get the opportunity!

hahnak said...

my two cents: wait to get the estimate, but its likely that it wont be that much (i know, i know). it wont be worth it if your premiums do go up. it might cost you _more_ in the long run if you report and if they do raise your rates.

im very very glad that your accident ended without injury to you or anyone else. keep safe

Frank said...

Good grief! Glad to hear you're ok; that could have ended up a lot worse.

Elisson said...

Just now catching up with this.

Thank God you're OK. As you so correctly note, things could have been so much worse. Dealing with the insurance company, repair shop, et alia, is much better that some of the other possibilities. Ask my trainer... or better yet, ask his daughter, who was rendered a paraplegic in an accident last year.

There's a prayer observant Jews recite after a close call, the gomel:

Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who graciously bestows favor upon the undeserving, even as he has bestowed favor upon me.

The congregation responds:

May He who has been gracious to you continue to favor you with all that is good.

And so may He do with you, my friend!