In the past dozen years or so I have been involved in four fender benders. The most recent was last week. In each case, the same thing happened. I was either stopped at a red light or in slowed traffic and the person behind me rear-ended my car. The people who hit me had nothing in common except this: all of them were briefly distracted in some way.
There are many different kinds of drivers — good ones and lousy ones and everything in between. Each time I've been hit, I always expect to get out of the car and meet up with someone I have imagined to be either drunk, stupid, or a wing nut. I rehearse some mad-sounding phrases like "what the heck kind of move was that, genius"? And then I get out of the car and meet someone very much like myself. It doesn't make for a dramatic story, but very nice, normal people hit other nice, normal people.
Last week, Bob, the guy who hit me, was a gentleman. He was apologetic, and clearly embarrassed by his mistake. By the time the police arrived we were old buddies. In fact, the officer asked me to describe what happened and I said, "Well, I was sitting at the red light and this gentleman decided he wanted to get to know me better," and we all had a good laugh. As Bob and I chatted while waiting for the officer to fill out the accident report, he told me that just the week before he had to chew out his teenage son for having a similar auto accident. He said the boy had been fiddling with the car radio and hit someone. Now, it was he who had been briefly distracted by something he saw on the side of the highway and the same thing happened. I asked Bob if he planned to tell his son about his accident. He didn't have to because he was driving a company car that he would not be driving to his house, but Bob said he felt he owed his son the truth that adults make mistakes, too. I thought Bob must be a pretty good dad as well as a nice guy.
A few years ago I was in the right hand lane at the Pell Bridge toll plaza when a man hit me as he was trying to pull over into the lane closest to the RITBA building to ask for information. Turns out he had his wife, a 3-year-old daughter and a 10-week-old baby in the car. They lived near Boston and were trying to go to the beach for the first time since the baby was born. They had become separated from some friends they were following and were lost. We waited for the police for about 45 minutes, during which the baby and the toddler were getting exceedingly more impatient. Even though it was hot, the kids were miserable and we were waiting for what seemed like forever, this guy started telling me how excited he was about his work. He was a bio-physicist and the creator of some high-tech medical devices used in organ surgery. Wow. No wonder he hit my car — way too much information floating around in that brain.
My first fender bender was on Interstate 95. I was heading north near the spot where Route 4 merges with I-95. It was morning rush hour and traffic had slowed in the high-speed lane. A woman ran into me, but I never got to meet her. A state police officer told us not to get out of the cars — it was too dangerous. He shuttled our information to each other and then we were off to work, so I haven't got a good story to go along with that one.
Of the four accidents, only one came close to being a wing nut. Again, I was sitting at a red light, this time driving a rental car while on vacation. A woman in a beat-up pickup truck cruised into my back end. We pulled over and got out and she immediately started going on about how she was in the middle of an ugly divorce and the accident would be just one more thing her lousy ex-husband could use against her to get her kids taken away from her. She told me she didn't have any car insurance, but she promised to pay me for any damage, which was minimal, if not nearly invisible. The woman, all the while talking about this goodfor nothing ex of hers, produced her license and registration and I let her vent while I copied down her vital stats. I told her I was driving a rental and I would not point out the small dent to them. But, if the rental company noticed the damage, I would have to produce her information. She thanked me profusely for understanding her situation and we shook hands. I never needed to use her information and I'm glad about that.
The folks who ran into me were all just people trying to get through their days in whatever ways they knew how to, and if it weren't for that quick turn of the head, radio fiddling, or reading road signs, there would not have been any accidents. But then, there wouldn't have been any stories either.