Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Good advice

Satori Sam has been almost causing accidents, and this reminds me of the only car accident I've ever had while driving. It happened when I was fifteen years old and had just got my driving licence. (Yes, you could get a licence at fifteen in NZ those days. Alas, no more.)

I was in town, in my first month or so of legal driving. I was on a narrow one-way street coming up to turn right into another, wider one-way street, and there was a stop sign. I stopped. There was also a pedestrian crossing, complete with pedestrian. When I stopped, the pedestrian stepped out in front of my car.

Glancing in my rear vision mirror I saw someone driving up behind me rather too fast. I watched him, wondering if he'd stop in time. There was nothing I could do if he didn't. If I went forward I'd run over the pedestrian, and I didn't think that was a good idea. Driving on country roads had not prepared me for this sort of thing.

The driver had his head turned to the left, to see if any traffic was coming along the street that we were turning into. There was none, so WITHOUT EVEN LOOKING IN FRONT OF HIM he kept going.

I leaned on the horn, and at the last moment the driver looked in in the direction he was going, saw my car, and swerved. The result was that the tail fin of my humble Ford Anglia ripped down the side of his lovely new BMW. (And if you don't know what a Ford Anglia is, it's because you're too damned young.)

The chrome was ripped off all up the side of the BMW, and the passenger door was destroyed.

The glass on my rear tail light was broken. Ford Anglias may be small, but they are built like little tanks.

I got out of my car and looked at the damage to my car. (Well, actually I looked FOR the damage. I didn't notice the light at first.) The other driver didn't get out of his car. Instead he behaved like an adult male wearing a suit and driving a flash car. He sat there, steaming, and refused to move. I went around to his side of the car to try to talk to him, and finally he wound down his window. Then he yelled abuse at me. He shouted that it was my fault, because no traffic was coming so why had I stopped? Telling him there was a stop sign and a pedestrian didn't work. HE WAS A BIG IMPORTANT MAN DRIVING A BIG IMPORTANT BMW and I was just a 15-year-old girl driving a Ford Anglia.

I made the mistake of laughing. The whole thing was so absurd that I thought he must be joking. But pretty soon I realized that he didn't think it was funny at all. I picked up a length of chrome from the road and handed it to him through his window, and he threw it back at me (and missed). I asked him for his name and he refused to tell me. Then he got out of his car, and I got scared. He was really, really angry. I backed off and suggested that we let the police sort it out if he didn't want to talk about it. I ran back to my car, grabbed a pen, and started writing his licence plate number on my hand, while looking around for somewhere to run where there would be a phone. I thought he was going to physically assault me.

But he didn't want the police, and my suggestion stopped him. He threw his business card at me, got back into his car, told me his insurance company's name, and ordered me to tell my father to get in touch with him. He said he didn't want to talk to me because I was just a stupid child who didn't know anything.

I double-checked his plate number anyway, as he drove off. I didn't trust him. According to his card he was a city councillor, and city councillors couldn't be that stupid, could they? I didn't believe the card. (I was wrong. He was a city councillor.)

I got home feeling rather shaken, and explained to my father what had happened. He told me I must have been unreasonable. I was just a 15-year-old girl, and 15-year-old girls are unreasonable by default, right? He didn't actually say this, but he implied it, and it made me mad. My father told me to calm down, said he'd take care of things, and instructed me to listen to his end of the phone conversation with the guy so I could learn how things were managed by responsible grown-ups in cases like this. I disagreed with this proposed phone call. I wanted to call the police.

"No, no, no," he said cheerfully. "No need to involve the police. You just have to be reasonable and handle it like an adult. You know, you really shouldn't have laughed. You probably embarrassed him. But he'll have had time to calm down, now."

"No, Dad," I insisted. "He started yelling before I laughed. I laughed because his yelling was so silly and because nobody was hurt. I thought he was yelling because he was upset about causing the accident. I thought he would take responsibility and get over it like a reasonable person, but HE IS NOT A REASONABLE PERSON, DAD. I'M WARNING YOU, DAD."

"Nonsense!" said Dad. "He is a responsible person. He must be! He's a city councillor!"

He told me this was a learning opportunity for me. In the end, because dads always win this kind of argument, I gave up and said I'd listen and try to learn.

He called the city councillor. "You'll see," he said reassuringly to me as he waited for the phone to be answered. "Don't worry so much."

The conversation started out reasonable and man-to-man ho ho ho we can sort this out between friends; silly hysterical girls can't be expected to understand how these manly things work can they? (Not those words, but that was the tone.) Then there was a long period during which the phone squawked noisily and my father said things like, "But -" and "Hold on, let me just say -" "No no WAIT a minute -" and "NOW WILL YOU JUST LISTEN - " and "MY DAUGHTER IS NOT - " as he slowly turned purple with indignation and appeared to inflate. Then he spluttered something like "BFFFTTTHPBTH!" and slammed down the phone. He followed this with some words I'd never heard him say before, and if I'd said them I would have been in big trouble.

Then he noticed that I was still listening earnestly, learning how to be reasonable and handle the situation like an adult. He amended himself,


"So what do we do now, Dad?" I asked.

"I'll write a letter," said Dad. "Let the insurance companies handle it. But it has to be in writing."

Still angry, he sat down and wrote a letter to the city councillor's insurance company, copied to our insurance company, explaining what had happened. It was a very reasonable letter, or at least the final version was. It was just the facts. I know, because I had to sit there and tell him the facts in painstaking detail. He included a carefully drawn diagram of the accident scene. He sent a third copy of the letter to the city councillor, who was not only a city councillor but also a Big Man in the business world of our small town, according to himself. He had taken great pains to tell my father so, in extraordinarily abusive and threatening language.

The Big Man, upon receipt of this letter, promptly fired back an angry reply. In his reply, he wrote that yes, the accident had happened exactly how my father had described it, and THEREFORE it was ALL MY FAULT. I had stopped at a stop sign when there was no traffic coming. DID I HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD? THERE WAS NO TRAFFIC COMING SO I SHOULD HAVE CARRIED ON DRIVING. ANY NORMAL PERSON WOULD HAVE, AND NOT CAUSED AN ACCIDENT BY STOPPING. He went on like that for a while, adding that I was too young and irresponsible to be on the road and a lot of other irrelevant stuff about how important he was.

Remarkably, he appeared to be unaware that drivers are required by law to stop at stop signs and pedestrian crossings. And driving into the car in front of you is not only NOT required by law, it makes you automatically in the wrong. (Driving over pedestrians because a Big Man is in a hurry is also frowned upon, I suspect.)

My father's jaw dropped as he read the letter.

"I can't believe he's put this in writing!" he said incredulously. "He's insane! And he's sent a copy to the insurance company!"

"Are you going to call him again, Dad?" I asked hopefully. I was hoping I'd get to listen to adults being reasonable again.

"NO," said Dad.

Instead, he called the insurance company and talked to the agent, who had also just received the letter. My father was firm from the outset, none of this man-to-man let's be reasonable nonsense. He made it clear that he was determined to take this to court if necessary.

The agent instantly and cheerfully agreed that with that sort of admission in writing (and in duplicate, no less) they had no choice but to pay out. The city councillor was a hundred percent in the wrong, and had admitted it. Nothing he said about whose fault he thought it was meant anything if he agreed about the facts. There was no argument.

This rather took the wind out of my father's sails, and after a pause, and with considerable dignity, he informed the agent how much it would cost to replace the broken glass on the rear light of the Ford Anglia. The agent laughed his head off. Finally my father's sense of the absurd kicked in and he started laughing, too.

"Well, that's all sorted out," he said, as he got off the phone. "No problem! They'll take care of it."

"That's good, Dad," I said. "And thanks for your help, and for showing me how to deal with it. So what's the lesson I'm supposed to have learned, again? I'm supposed to be reasonable, right?"

Dad thought about it, and the memory of his attempt at reasonableness caused him to go slightly pink.

"Well, I hope there isn't a next time," he said, finally. "But if there is, call the police right away."

My dad gave good advice. It sometimes took him a while to get there, though.


this_is_mine said...

I know the feeling. People almost kill me all the time as I am riding my bike, then have the nerve to yell at me. It happens a lot more often than it should.

Vickie said...

Thanks so much for sharing the story. People were so stereotypical -- are so stereotypical... That somebody's a young girl immediately makes her irresponsible, eh?

I've yet to learn to drive. Glad to read something about it so I could be more careful of the, hmm, different people out there. :P

Anonymous said...

What a great story, with all your dad's reasonableness. I can't believe a city councillor was so unaware of the most basic law of driving, though. What a schmuck.

Carrie (queenoframbles)

melinama said...

It's time for you to write a book. I'll buy a copy.

Marinade Dave said...

Great story and very well written. Living in Florida, believe me, I know about bad drivers.

Faerunner said...

Are there any Ford Anglias still on the road? I'd drive one. "Built like a tank" is cool... and yes, I know what they are (I feel so old!)