What I learned from my car wreck
I’m a good driver. I’m not the best, but I try to minimize distractions, know where I’m going, and pay attention to what’s going on around me.
As much as I try to control what happens with my car, I can’t control what others do in their cars. Today I want to share with you about the accident that I was in last summer. It’s been almost a year and I held off in saying anything about this because I wanted to make sure insurance and everything was handled and it was truly all over.
On a Tuesday morning last July, I was alone driving home in our older SUV. I was passing our local high school which is on a two-lane road with a center turn lane.
As I approached one of the entrances to the school, a car turned left in front of me.
I tried to veer right, off the road, but due to the lack of time and distance, I was unable to avoid a collision. There was a white flash, a hard hit, and I grunted really loud.
The next few moments were swimmy. My brain alerted me to the smell of burning plastic and I became fully aware again. I had previously been in a car fire, so the smell was familiar and alarming.
I knew I had to get out of the car. I turned the engine off and got out. I had come to a stop on the side of the road just before a wooded area with trees. Amazingly I had missed two cars at the stop sign waiting to turn out of the school.
The driver and passenger of the other car were already out. That made me feel really good that they were okay. The driver was about 16 and the passenger a bit younger.
The driver was shaken up but knew enough to come to ask me if I was okay. We spoke for a moment and I don’t remember what was said, but at the end, she hesitated and said, “I’m sorry”.
This indicated to me that she knew she was a fault, but if there had been a full investigation, I’m not sure that would have held up in court. But it was at least comforting to know and I respected her ownership of her actions.
I got to my phone and called my wife to say I was in a wreck and where I was. Then I called my insurance agent and left a message.
Sometime after that, a nice man came to check on me. He’d not seen the accident but wanted to stop and check on everyone. Most people had been concerned about the young ladies, I and I get that. Their car was in worse shape than mine.
No One’s Coming
We spoke briefly and he volunteered to call the police. What we found out is that local 911 wasn’t going to send an officer to the scene. Since there was no need for an ambulance, so they told him to call the highway patrol. Now he has to make a separate call to the highway patrol, talk to someone new, and then be told it could be an hour before anyone showed up.
I’ll pause here to remind you that you really are your own first responder.
I think that if we had a critical need, then an ambulance would have been there quick. But since that wasn’t the case, the jurisdictional lines and policies of law enforcement left people in need on the side of the road to fend for themselves. You’re very vulnerable after a wreck and knowing that no one is urgently coming to help is sobering.
I didn’t want the officer to clean up the road. I just thought it’d be nice if someone would stop by and keep other drivers from hitting our cars, maybe write up a report, and generally keep things safe.
A summer or two before, I was in a production vehicle that blew a tire on the interstate. We called 911 because we were in a dangerous spot. We were told that since we were off the road and no one was hurt, all the operator could do was call us a tow truck. Cool, right?
In the midst of all of this, I wondered what I need to do next. Ironically that week I had done a podcast on what to do after a wreck where I shared my free checklist on what to do in this exact situation. So I grabbed my phone and pulled up the list and started taking care of business.
I took pictures of the scene from every angle that it was safe to do so. My car, her car. From my point of view and from hers. I had pictures of her on the scene, license plates, and the interior of my car. And I took pictures of the burns on my arms from the airbag.
Now I was able to talk to the young driver for a bit. She’d calmed down and was presenting herself really well. She explained to me that the car belong to her step-dad. This was concerning to me because now I had to wonder if:
One, was the stepdad was going to come to the scene and be angry with me and I’d have to defend myself. Two, was the stepdad going to show up and be angry at her and I’d have to defend her.
Thankfully the young lady’s mom showed up and was very understanding and graceful. I’ll say this of the young lady in the other car. I’ve seen her on her worst day and she did really well. She is going to do really well in life.
As time went on I started not to feel good. I realized that my adrenaline was leaving my system and that I was hurting much more than I realized. So if you’re in this situation, don’t wave off medical help so quickly. You might not be fully aware of what’s wrong.
Thankfully at that point, a police officer showed up. He was the school resource officer who was just on his way to work. He pulled in checked on us, got to work, and called a tow truck.
Then my wife arrived and started to help me work through what was going on and was a great asset. She knew I was hurting. And she could tell I was trying to cowboy my way through it. She informed me that we were going to urgent care as soon as I was cleared.
The tow truck arrived and I began to clean out my car. I didn’t know for sure if it was going to be totaled, but I wanted to get all that I could out of it. The tow truck driver asked me where to take my car and I had no idea. He made a suggestion and finally agreed to that.
I talked with the driver and her mom and we exchanged information. I offered my information first and told her to take a picture of my cards. I did this first because I wanted that information from her. Offering it first was a sign of good faith and opened up the chance for them to reciprocate, which is what I really wanted.
As I clean up my car, the officer came to explain everything to me. On the incident report, he noted that the young lady was at fault. I don’t know if she admitted that to him. I also don’t know if he gave her a ticket.
I spoke to the young lady one more time, forgave her, and told her not to let this moment define her. After that my wife took me to urgent care.
So I want to share with you a few things that I learned after the collision. Remember me calling a leaving a message for my insurance agent? Yeah, he ever called back. Ever.
It took us a long time to learn that he was being removed from the company and the company didn’t have anyone to help his clients. So we were on our own. I filed a claim through the company app and that went smoothly.
But generally, your local agent can’t do that much for you. To be honest I’m not sure why local agents exist other than to sell you more stuff. If you think they’ll be fully knowledgeable of your claim, and will answer all of your questions, they won’t. They’ll refer you to the adjuster who works in some office building in another state.
I also learned from the insurance investigator that the fault assigned to the other driver by the police officer means nothing to insurance. They’ll have their own team recreate the accident and never mind the fact that the officer was there and talked to witnesses. The officer’s findings really didn’t mean much of anything when it comes to insurance liability.
I also learned that turning left is one of the most dangerous things a driver can do in the normal act of driving. You’re crossing lanes and timing traffic. I also found out that unless someone is egregiously speeding, then the person who is turning left is almost always a fault. So try to limit where you turn left and often you do it.
And this is the best one. I don’t know what it’s like in your state, but the tow truck driver recommended the body shop. I’ll remind you I had just been in a wreck and had my bell rung so I trusted him. Now hold on because this next bit gets complicated... and morally ambiguous.
We found out later that the body shop rents space to the tow truck company to let my car sit in the body shop lot. I was getting charged $35 a day from the tow truck company for my car to sit in the back lot of the body shop.
Then I started getting harassing, registered, letters from the tow truck company that I owed them a lot of money. They also said that they were now in possession of my car and that they were going to sell it if I didn’t pay up.
So I went to pay them. Mind you they don’t take checks and charge a 10% service fee for using my credit card. Then I had to sign for my car to be released by the tow truck company to the body shop to wait for it… for my car to stay in the same place. When I asked for my keys, they didn’t have them.
THE BODY SHOP HAD THE KEYS! How are you in possession of a car if it’s not on your property and you don’t have the keys?!
So here’s my suggestion, no matter where your car ends up after a wreck, call the tow truck company and get the car released that day or the next morning. Insurance should pay that for you, but I didn’t know that because… as I said, my agent was being removed from the company. I hope I can save you some stress and frustration.
At the end of the day, we all walked away from the wreck. God is good.
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