Many people who have been in a car crash – either one they've caused or one they've had visited upon their innocent selves – will tell you that it changes the way they drive. They become more cautious, more aware of their actions on the road, and the actions of others. Some stop driving for a period of time; some stop driving forever. None will drive through the scene of the crash and not remember it.
For this reason, we need a way for drivers who create near-misses to do their penance.
I was driving westbound on Dundas Street in Mississauga, at rush-hour recently. A young man was clipping along beside me in a black Mitsubishi Outlander. He was young; it was new. As he approached a green light, a car was preparing to make a right turn from a side street into his lane. He should have seen the car and the car shouldn't have made the turn. Maybe he didn't see it, but it did make the turn.
I was a couple of car lengths behind him in the inside lane. The light wasn't stale, but he goosed it at the last second anyway, just as I let up. As the car, probably anticipating his slower speed just a moment before, moved to cut him off, he panicked and swerved into my lane. I'd picked up a press car 15 minutes earlier, a high-end sports car with monster brakes. The Jaguar F-Type is beautiful; at that moment, all I cared about was that it practically let me stand it on its nose. There are many cars I drive that wouldn't have allowed me to do that. The one I own wouldn't have. More swerving would have resulted in auto carnage.
The lad was shaken up. He deserved to be. If you're going to drive, you have to focus on all that's going on. You need to be aware of that car inching forward; you need to be aware of cars behind and beside you. The turning car was wrong, but speeding up only made things worse. The only reason I managed to brake was because I'd been covering it as we came to the intersection. I didn't trust the turning car, and the whole thing played out in a fraction of a second behind the bulk of the Outlander.
Everybody messes up at some point. Whether you're a novice, or tired, or stressed or angry, we've all had moments when someone else has saved our butt.
The problem now was that his focus shifted to trying to get away from me, as if I was going to hop out of the car and lay a mommy rant on him at the next red light. His nerves, humiliation, fear and indignation were leading him to drive more erratically. I didn't want to jockey for position at a red light to glare at him or chew him out. I sincerely believe nobody sets out in their car to cause crashes, or inflict damage or injury.
The only thing I wish I could have told him? You screwed up, but we all do. You didn't pay for it this time, so please tell me you'll remember it and drive more cautiously. Remember it when you walk in the house and don't have to tell mom or dad that you smashed their new car.
Would I have been as concerned about the driver of that Outlander if he'd been 50? Would I have reacted the same way if it was a parent with child seats in the back? I like to think so, but I don't know.
I remind myself that the age of a driver isn't always an indicator of how long they've been driving. A newly licensed 40-year-old can have as little experience as a newly licensed 17-year-old.
Everybody screws up. Do it often enough and your record will reflect it. But it only takes once.
I'm glad the kid is okay, but he might want to flip a thank you note to Jaguar.