Labor Day accident reactions, post-facto

Labor Day morning I witnessed an auto-truck accident. It happened at the intersection of 31st Street and Bloomington Avenue. I had stopped at the intersection on my way to the post office when a black pickup truck slammed into a blue subcompact right in front of me. “OHMYGOD!” I exclaimed as the blue car spun around and the black truck careened toward my car. Somehow, the driver gained enough control to miss my front end and come to a stop at the curb beside me.

I drove through the intersection, parked my car by the deposit box, and got out, uncertain what to do. The smashed blue car leaked radiator fluid into the street as its young male driver got out and pulled his frightened son out of his car seat in back. Neither was hurt though the shaken toddler whimpered for a while beside his father.

The driver of the truck emerged some moments later and helped his female passenger out of the cab. Aside from the cloth covering her right temple, neither of them seemed to be injured. When I asked the onlookers standing across the street if someone had called 9-1-1, one man assured me they had been phoned so I dropped my electricity bill payment into the mailbox and waited for the police.

The EMT ambulance arrived within minutes, two police squad cars a moment or two later. The damaged subcompact was pushed out of the intersection, radiator fluid still leaking onto the street from under its smashed hood as the EMTs helped the injured woman into the ambulance and the police asked questions.

Three takeaways from the incident:

1. Despite the ferocity of the collision, the blue subcompact’s collapsible front-end design and airbags protected father and son from serious injury. Modern technology often shields us from more tragic results of our personal catastrophes.

2. Incidents like this occur so quickly that I couldn’t recall the exact sequence of events though they happened right before me. I Barely had I braced myself for the impact of the truck careening into my car before the truck stopped at the curb beside me. Lawyers say witnesses mis-recall or make up details of disastrous events all the time. Neurologists claim it’s the brain’s built-in mechanism to rest itself from focusing all the time. Whether mine was due to my brain’s adaptive self-protection or a simple lack of attention, I cannot say. It was only when I began to piece events together afterward that I formulated a logical and coherent narrative of what must have occurred, accurate or not.

3. Finally, tempting as it is to blame the driver of the truck for speeding or inattentive driving, I, too, was in a hurry to drop off my bill and get on with my day. That’s why I dropped it in the mailbox before I checked on the drivers of the two vehicles. Other people had gathered around the vehicles which caused me to think the occupants were all right, but absorption in my own inconsequential affairs motivated my passive reaction to the event. Though I stuck around until the injured woman was driven off in the ambulance and police offered the father and son a ride home, my impressions of the incident given to the female police officer documenting the accident seem detached and self-serving.

The lesson taken from this affair: be attentive while driving. Calamity can happen even if you’re obeying the traffic laws. How long my resurrected sense of driver diligence will last is anyone’s guess.

So, am I being overly sensitive or insufficiently critical of my actions? What do you think?

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