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Gus Van Horn blog

Reblogged:A Tale of Two Accidents

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My two worst car accidents happened about two and a half years apart. The first was my fault and the second was caused by another driver. Interestingly, I think both caused me to become a better driver, but to different degrees and for different reasons. As to why, I'll explore that here.

A few years ago, we were about to head home from a party the kids had been invited to when I attempted a U-turn only to be struck from someone behind me. I was flabbergasted at first, but upon leaving the car, I immediately saw that this was something I never would have considered had I been more familiar with that particular road. Luckily, nobody got hurt, and both cars were reparable. But there is no comfort in depending on luck: I remember feeling very edgy about driving of any kind until I had the chance to return to the site of the accident. It was only after I figured out how I had made the series of mistakes that led me to believe I could make a U-turn that I regained my confidence as a driver. The emotional recovery was quick, but the improvement was small (although not insignificant).

At the tow lot.
The second accident was much worse. An inattentive driver plowed into the back of our car at speed while I was at a stop during the drive home from gymnastics with my kids. The impact was so fast, I don't even remember moving. But move we did: The rear of our car crumpled by at least a foot and we crashed into a car comfortably ahead of us with enough force to deploy my airbag and the window curtains. The rear axle ended up under the rear bench. Nobody was hurt, but the car was totaled. It took me ten minutes to find my phone, which had been in my dash, but ended up on the rear floor of the passenger compartment under one of my son's shoes -- which had been on his foot. This was clearly a more severe accident, but I felt completely comfortable driving my loaner car the next day.

Interestingly, it was in the ensuing weeks, as my subconscious processed the accident, that I started feeling edgy about driving. I realized that my estimate of the attentiveness or rationality of other drivers might be suspect and there wasn't much I could do about that other than pay much better attention myself, and take pains to communicate better. About a month later, I surprised myself by coming up with a new standing order to at least lower the chances of getting rear-ended in a similar situation. (I already had made a practice of using flashing lights for sudden or dead stops on highways. This stop was for a traffic signal, but traffic was backed up far enough that anyone could have been surprised by my being stopped -- or confused a quick glance at my brake light for merely slowing down. I'll use flashers for similar situations in the future.) This hasn't taken off all the edge, but that's a good thing, because a side effect is that I make more of an effort to anticipate the mistakes of other drivers. In other words, although one can't make other drivers better in the way one can self-improve, one can think of ways to make it easier for them to make good decisions. I think that is a much more significant improvement in my driving overall than I made after the first accident.

It is common knowledge that many people wrongly feel safer driving than flying, and it is partly because one has more immediate control of his safety as a driver. Considering why driving really isn't safer than flying can make all of us better drivers. Other drivers aren't usually highly trained or disciplined, unlike an airline pilot. It is in one's best interest to give them a hand.

-- CAV

P.S. Immediately after making sure the kids were okay, I was in awe of the safety technology that allowed us to escape calamity. I really wanted to gush about how neat it was, but the kids needed too much calming down to appreciate it then. So let me close with a word of thanks to the inventors, manufacturers, and investors behind all of that: You deserve to make money hand over fist.

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