You live long enough, and you stay fairly mobile, you're gonna have some car wrecks. I hope none of them hurt you too badly. And I hope you didn't like that car more than you should have. It's just a way to get around, you know?

I drive a lot. My job involves about 20,000 miles a year. Thus, I've had so many wrecks, and had them on what seems like some sort of schedule, that I know when I'm overdue. I told my daughter I was overdue about six months ago.

As a result of all the wrecks, I've become a very defensive driver. I watch folks in my rear view and side view mirrors as much I watch the road ahead. My last wreck (before this) was a lady rear ending me with my daughter in the car, when she was about 7. It scared the dickens out of her. And it pissed me off, because the lady who hit us acted like it wasn't even her fault. We were parked in a line of traffic, standing still, and she topped a hill in her sturdy little BMW and smacked us going about 40 MPH. The jolt was so severe that my back still hurts now. But it was my little girl crying that sent me over the edge with this thoughtless bitch (a grade school teacher at a private school). I think I would have beaten her to death if there hadn't been others around.

Come to think of it, every wreck I've ever had that wasn't my fault (a couple back when I was a teenager were my fault, but none since) has been the fault of a woman driver. This cannot be just coincidence, can it? God bless you women, but let's face it: Many of you can't drive worth a shit. I blame your parents for not teaching you. My wife, bless her heart, has no idea what the little mirrors on the side of the car are for. Like cat's whiskers, I guess, for tight spots. I tried telling her once, but then I decided the marriage was worth more than the mirrors.

So, last night, my number was up. And it was the most unlikely of wrecks because it came out of the blue. That made it the scariest I've ever had, too. Usually you have a few seconds to prepare.

I was sitting in the dark and the rain at a stop sign, waiting to turn left into a busy divided highway. I looked to my right to see how it looked, then I looked to the left to see.... WHOA, SHIT!! Here was a GMC SUV about 10 feet from me, coming off a rain-soaked hill, and it was not stopping. It hit me just as cleanly in my driver's side door as if she had been aiming for me. I didn't even have time for my sorry life to flash in front of my eyes. And I'd been waiting on that one, too.

When the Jimmy made impact, my head immediately slammed into the window on the driver's side door. I'm just now feeling the real impact of that deal. I don't think I've ever had a real concussion before. It's sort of like drugs, except it hurts. And it makes you stupid(er).

At least the little girl who hit me in her big SUV was kind enough to not drive off, and to actually be concerned about the damage she'd done to ol' dannye. So, she and I spent half an hour last night, huddled under an awning nearby, waiting for the cops to come and do what they do.

She was a 20 year old who'd never had a wreck before. She was visibly shaken, but in a sort of masculine way; not crying or having a fit, just pacing back and forth, smoking a cigarette and saying, "I'm so sorry" over and over. Sometimes, she'd try to joke about how her insurance rates were going to go up and how she was hoping to do some other things with her paycheck next month. (She has no idea how much this is going to cost her, bless her heart.) She called her dad on my car phone.

I was in a sort of daze, thinking about how much worse this could have been. I am sincerely and honestly grateful for the little Japanese folks who designed the Honda Accord. The impact in the side was severe enough that, had I been in a Ford Festiva or some such shit, I think I'd be legless right now. As it was, the only damage I seem to have is this concussion. I can live with that. I wasn't too bright to begin with.

The thing I remember the most is the little girl, after a while, looking at me and saying, "I don't understand how you can be so calm. I'm still shaking like a leaf." For some weird reason, I thought of Sensei at that moment. I'm no Sensei. But I tried to imagine what he'd say.

I said, "You'll have more car wrecks in your life, if you grow old. I just hope none of them hurt you too badly." She started crying then.

Automobile crashes are deadly. They kill lots of people every year. In 1999, 41,611 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the US alone. The rate is improving, however, that's 7% less than in 1975, even though the volume of traffic has increased.

Some interesting facts about car crashes and fatalities in them:

  • Females are less likely to die in an auto accident than males.
  • Airbags reduce driver fatalities in front collisions by 26% when used in conjunction with a seatbelt.
  • Of the people killed in auto accidents, 29% had blood alcohol levels of .10% or more (drunk).
  • Daytime running lights (essentially headlights) reduce your likelyhood of getting in a crash during the daytime by 7%
  • Per mile of road, you are 16 times more likely to be killed while riding a motorcycle than a car.
  • Speed kills (above or below speed limit). As your speed doubles, your kinetic energy quadruples.
  • Larger vehicles have a lower death rate for the occupents than smaller vehicles.
  • 51% of SUV fatalities involved rollovers (5 times higher than cars).

Many of these statistics were shamelessly gathered from the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety.

A few days ago a policeman held a speach at our school about driving carefully, not drinking and driving, and things like that. One interesting thing he showed us was a way to "simulate" a slow car crash.

Let's imagine you are driving at 7 km/h - which is in fact an unlikely low speed for driving - and you suddenly stop in a dead halt. The effect on your body of such an event would be like that of standing straight up with your arms in front of you and falling forewards. Try it. Try falling forewards from an upright position and land horizontal, landing and "receiving" the fall with your arms and hands. That was a crash in 7 km/h.

Now let's say you want to simulate a crash at 15-20 km/h. To do this you would fall forewards in the same way, only this time you would stand on a chair and fall off it. Remember, this is still at a very low speed for driving.

To simulate a crash at 50-60 km/h you would have to fall of a 8 m tall building. To simulate a crash at 80-90 km/h you would have to fall from around 30 m high.

I think I'm going to use a seatbelt next time I'm in a car.

Dad & I had the church song service together at Castle Hill SDA Church. I woke up late, reading as usual the night before, and Dad had already gone to get the projector & stuff ready. We had discussed earlier if we'd play guitar, but it was either two guitars or none (neither of us were good enough to play alone) and we only had one, so that meant none!

Anyway, there I was at home, and Mum had come back from church to get me in Dad's car, his beautiful white 1985 Toyota Corolla Seca. In those days the Corolla Seca was a sports car - it was the one of the first high-volume twin cams - 1.8 litres of free-revving fun - and it could take a big, fat, V8 HRT Commodore at the lights without even trying very hard. Dad had finally gotten a job that supplied a company car you see, so even though we were really poor as church mice, in those heady days of no Fringe Benefits Tax, a company car was something you could invest a little creativity in.

I begged her to let me drive back (on my Learner's Permit) to church knowing that Dad would never have, and knowing I could pressure Mum into letting me drive if I tried really hard.

There we are, driving up towards the corner where you take the lights right to the church. We're all dressed up, we're slightly late, Mum is panicking (as she still does when I drive for some reason). And the lights turn yellow. And I'm waiting correctly a short distance into the intersection for a break in traffic. The lights are yellow for a long time. A car approaches the lights coming towards us - it's very late yellow and I think "They'll stop". Mum, although she'll deny it, said "It's turning red" or "Go" or something. Actually she probably said "Ururgheieu", the same panicking noise Nana makes in traffic just before she says "Daddy Daddy Daddy!" to Paapie. You can unfailingly get a laugh in my family by imitating Nana doing this, by the way.

The next two paragraphs happen in about 3 seconds.

So I pull out in front of this slowing down car that's still miles back from very yellow lights to make a right turn, blinkers on, all correct. And at that exact same time the driver of the other car (it was a Toyota Tarago with a big 80's bullbar from memory - all angles and crappy brakes) decides to put her foot down to get through the almost-red lights in a hurry.

This next paragraph takes place in about half a second, included in the 3 seconds I indicated above.
Mum grabs my arm. I see what's happening and completely stop the Seca - it has excellent brakes. I figure out that this other car, which has now put on its brakes, is going to hit us. I reach down and turn our engine off, pull the handbrake on and take my hands off the wheel and my feet off the pedals. I don't want the shock of the accident to come through the wheel & pedals into my wrists and ankles.
The Tarago takes about 14 hours to cross the last 2 metres to the front of the Seca and then CRUMP.
End the three seconds.

Time goes fast again and glass flies; after a stunned moment the Tarago backs up and turns the corner, getting out of the stream of traffic; I find that our car can still drive, I drive it around the corner. Mum is silent. I suggest that she walks down and gets Dad - she says I have to go and she'll talk to the woman in the Tarago. Neither of us are that keen to face Dad.

So I walk down to church. We're not late after all. Dad is down the front preparing, and he smiles up at me - glad to see I've arrived.

"Um, Dad, I've crashed the car."

Time slows down again, not quite as slow this time, it only takes 25 minutes or so for Dad to swallow and say

"Is Mum ok?"

I could have kissed him. Honestly! What a perfect thing to say! I resolved then and there that no matter what circumstances beleaguered me in my future life that I would always always ask that question before any others. You see we do learn things from our parents. Good things too, sometimes.

We walked quietly back to Dad's wonderful little sports car, now with its bonnet folded in half. I can't remember if the Tarago woman was still there - I think she was. We exchanged details and then walked back down to do the song service.

Before one of the songs (I think it was the second one) I couldn't be silent any longer about what had happened (I certainly wasn't being silent leading the singing!). I think the song was "Abba, Father" or something corny like that. I said,

"I'd just like to say something about fathers. I just crashed Dad's car on the way to church here to take the song service and although it was my fault he hasn't said a harsh word to me and I know it isn't just because we have the song service and I just wanted to say that I love my father."

Or words to that effect. I may have said less and I may have said more but that's certainly what I meant to say. Dad smiled and people thought we had a wonderful family, and you know what, sometimes we did.

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