Thursday , October 22 2020
Are we now not even going to talk to people we crash into?

Anatomy of A (Near) Car Crash

I could have been killed today. Okay, I know that sounds a bit melodramatic, but it's true. I was driving back from church and I was going about 70 mph. That was in the "slow" lane. A car in the "fast" lane that was about 3/4th of a car length ahead of me began to drift into my lane. I began to drift to the right to compensate, but there were only two lanes and the rough shoulder dropped off, so I could not have pulled onto the shoulder, even if I wanted to, without possibly crashing.

The other car, smaller than an SUV but bigger than a Pinto, and definitely big enough to make me spin like a top if it hit me, wasn't seeing me. Then suddenly the other car saw me and saw that if it kept drifting it would hit me and we'd both be spinning around at 70 mph and we had cars ahead and behind us.

The driver overreacted and the car swerved toward the shoulder on the left side, then it swerved again toward me at what seemed like a 33-degree angle. If the driver didn't correct, I was about to get hurt. At the last minute the driver jerked the car again, this time in the direction of the shoulder. The car went off the road and partially up the incline in the median. I was now watching this car turn around while I pulled off to the shoulder and began running up the interstate to make sure the driver was okay.

I was thrilled the car did not flip over. The whole thing was reminding me of my own car crash, where my truck flipped and spun. I'm curious if others have had close calls like this and how they reacted to it.

Not only was this car not flipped, another driver beat me to the car in question and was returning to his car. He shouted at me, "She said she's okay" and gave me a "thumbs up" sign. I tried to think of the sign to indicate "I need to check on her because I'm the car she almost hit and–" damn, there was no sign for that. I kept running — well, walking now as I realized I was out of shape — toward the car that now seemed to be… was she turning her car around? She was.

I thought quickly. Is there some kind of car accident etiquette here? I felt bad and yet I really had no reason to feel bad – I had the right of way and did nothing wrong. Was this driver obligated to tell me herself she was okay and/or bore no ill will? Or do I to her? As I now got closer to her car, about 50 yards now, she had her car turned around and was signaling to re-enter the fast lane.

It hit me suddenly there was going to be no conversation. While there was no real technical or legal need for us to exchange "I'm okay, are you okay?" it still seemed the right thing to do. Was the other driver embarrassed or in a hurry? I was starting to, frankly, get kind of pissed off. This person had come close to making a move that could have gotten both of us killed and she did not now even have the courtesy to say anything to me. Her car started to enter the fast lane and there was no indication the driver was going to come in my direction.

That was it. I turned around and started back to my car. Not only did the driver avoid slowing down as she approached me, she was speeding up. A hand shot out and I'm not sure what it was. I was expecting a thumb's up or a wave to indicate she was okay, but it wasn't that. I don't think she gave me the finger, either. I really have no idea what that gesture meant, which is why I wanted to talk to her to avoid this type of ambiguous exchange.

I thought about this in the larger picture. Has it come to this: Are we now not even going to talk to people we crash into? I was reminded of the movie Crash. While I liked much of the movie, I thought of a line referring to the title was absurd, perhaps intentionally so:

"It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something."

As I got into my car I drove a little slower, more aware of how quickly my life could change, and pondered that statement. No, I decided, not only do we avoid having our cars touch each other, strangers don't want to touch or talk to strangers either, even if, for one odd moment, their lives intersect.

I could not decide which I find more troubling – how close I came to being hurt in a car accident or the latest indictment about the sad state of our society. I still have not decided. The butterflies of alarm are still rumbling in my stomach, but those will go away. What will be with me tomorrow is the knowledge of the driver's actions or inactions, and that, I think, disturbs me the most.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been working in mental health for the last ten years. He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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