(This is only the second time I've ever been a driver in an accident, the third time I've ever been in an accident, and the very first time that there was any noticable damage to either vehicle, police called in, etc. So if this seems a bit too detailed or old hat, it's because this is all new to me.)
I was heading home, a bit after 6 P.M., after a long day at work, and was on a semi-major side street (Dee Rd.) that I take to get from the major road the library is on (Oakton Ave.) to the next major road south (Touhy Ave.), which has an entrance to the tollway.
I'd just passed one of those "Watch Your Speed" boxes the police put up to discourage speeding, so I know for a fact I was only going 31 in a 35 mph zone. Traffic wasn't really any heavier or lighter than usual; it was just another average trip home.
Halfway down this road there's a stoplight (Sibley Ave.); it was already green for me. I was in the right-hand land, and there was someone at the intersection in the left-hand lane, waiting for oncoming traffic to clear enough to turn left; there are no left-turn lanes nor protected left-turn arrows at that intersection. (I don't remember what kind of vehicle it was--which sort of bothers me, but I know is normal in the situation--only that it was somewhat big and I think it might have been red or maroon. Since that car was stationary and most likely going to be moving away from me, I wasn't paying much attention to it, which is why I don't really remember it.) I couldn't see around that car to see the oncoming lanes, but I have a dim impression of noticing a line of cars in the oncoming left-hand lane, waiting to turn left that way. Just about the time I was noticing that, and as I was passing the stationary car in the lane next to me, the first of the oncoming left-turners turned left right in front of me; the first thing I remember seeing of that car is having it broadside in front of me, fully in my way. I stepped on the brakes, but instantly knew there almost certainly wasn't enough distance to stop. With a car to my left and the curb & traffic light to my right, I had nowhere to go but straight--not that veering would have done much good even if there had been space to either side, as I was so close that I probably would've clipped them either way. At the very last second I hoped I just might stop with inches or less to spare, but that wasn't to be--I slammed into them, hitting them on the bottom half of the passenger's side rear door & the rear wheel, with a nice, loud thunk.
From my perspective, that car came out of nowhere. I don't know if the other driver could see that I was coming before she started her turn, but given my sight-lines, I'm certain there was no way I could see her until there was no way for me to avoid hitting her.
Everything I had on the seat next to me was thrown to the floor, and I was jolted forward, but not enough to hit the steering wheel. Also, I didn't notice it at the time, but when a co-worker asked me about it yesterday, I realized that my airbags hadn't gone off, which means I probably had bled off most of my speed, and that last-minute hope of stopping in time wasn't quite as remote a possibility as it seemed at the time. (I just looked it up, and airbags are supposed to deploy if a crash happens at more than 10-15 mph, and my car was required by law to have airbags, so therefore, either I hit them at under 10 mph--still too much, obviously, but not nearly as bad as it could've been--or the airbag sensor was defective. I choose to believe the former as the more likely explanation.)
I guess I sort of knew right away that I was basically okay (nothing hurt), but it took me a bit to collect myself enough to look around and get out of my car. I immediately noticed the two twenty- or thirty-something women both standing on the driver's side of the car (so I couldn't tell which one was driving), both reaching through the open driver's door to get things out of the car (probably cell phones) and making phone calls. Both seemed at first sight to be uninjured, but I was only barely able to process anything at this point. Then one of them went into the back seat--remember, I hit the rear door of the car--and pulled out a baby carrier. My first reaction to that sight was, "I'm screwed, I just hit a car with a baby in it." Immediately after that was, "I hope the baby's okay," so I guess I'm not completely selfish. As I was standing next to my car, the other driver (as I later learned she was) yelled out something like, "What's your problem?" or "What're you doing?", to which I responded (knowing I shouldn't admit guilt, and not wanting to accuse her, but still wanting to answer), "I didn't see you." Somewhere around this time, I called kateshort to let her know that I'd been in an accident, but was okay, so I wouldn't be home when she was expecting me.
After the baby seat was out of the car and on the grass away from everything, the other driver pulled her car over to the curb, out of traffic. Even given the fact that her right-rear tire was at an angle to the axle, it was quickly apparent that her car was not drivable. I left my car where it was, blocking that lane of traffic and somewhat blocking traffic on the cross-street (I didn't want to "disturb the scene" until told by the police that it was okay to do so, just in case the location of cars might help the police investigate what happened). I walked over to the curb, and asked the other women if they'd called the police; they had, so I didn't bother duplicating that effort. We had a second go-around of "What were you doing?" "I just didn't see you", with a side of "I had my baby girl in the car", "Yeah, I about had a fit when I saw you pull her out, I hope she's okay"--followed by her commenting that she'd just bought the car from her girlfriend, it wasn't even paid off yet, and it was still in the girlfriend's name--before they went a bit further down the easement with the baby and to make some more phone calls, leaving me on the corner. From what I could overhear, they were apparently just a few blocks from the relative's house they were going to a family gathering/party at.
As I was standing on the corner, there was another lady standing there; she said she was the driver of the car I'd been passing, had seen the other car turn left right in front of me, had completed her turn and parked over there, and was willing to be a witness if the police showed up soon. I thanked her profusely for coming over; at that point, I was beginning to wonder if I'd imagined there being another car there in the first place.
Sometime around here, the other driver's husband showed up. Big guy, in an orange construction vest, hard hat, and steel-toe work boots. Given that both women were also much heavier than I am (not difficult, I know), I was certain it was in my best interest not to say anything accusatory or do anything provoking.
Then we waited. It wasn't more than a few minutes when a police SUV approached, but it didn't look like she was going to stop; the two of us flagged her down, and as she got closer, I saw that the car said "community service". She turned on her rollers and pulled up behind me. (Apparently, "community service" officers can't do much in this sort of situation, as it was immediately obvious she wasn't going to do much besides try to keep us calm and keep everything in order until the "real" officers arrived.) She asked me to have my license & insurance card ready for the investigating officer, and to pull my car out of traffic. Just after I'd done so, a squad car & an ambulance pulled up.
The officer started by asking for my driver's license & insurance card, which I did indeed already have out. Then he talked with the witness, and I moved a bit away so as to not be tempted to interject or otherwise influence testimony. As I was moving away, I heard that she lived only a block or so away, which is why I didn't see her car anywhere after she'd made her turn--it wasn't parked on the street, it was in her garage. I never did get her name, though.
One of the paramedics asked me how I was feeling ("as well as can be expected, but don't seem to be injured") and whether I was refusing treatment ("yes"), and then said his partner would be over with some paperwork for me to sign to that effect.
Then I told the short version of my story to the officer, and answered his questions, the only one of which I remember was, "Was the light green in your direction?" He then told me--before talking to the other driver--that it was clear that the other car had failed to yield, and that if I'd just have a seat and wait for 25 minutes, he'd come back and explain everything. Then he asked if I had any questions. My response was something like "What should I tell my insurance agency?" He said that I shouldn't call my insurance company yet; if I'd just wait 25 minutes, he'd tell me everything I needed to know. Then he went to get the information from the other driver, who was with the paramedics, and asked me to pull my car closer to the curb. One of the paramedics guided me in between the other car and the ambulance. The other driver couldn't find her current insurance card, but insisted it really was insured. She pulled two or three cards out of her purse (at which point, I could see that she and I shared the same overall insurance company, which should make things easier/quicker in the end), all of which were expired. The officer insisted that as long as she had a relatively recent card, he'd could look it up so it wouldn't be a problem.
The officer went back to his car, the witness went home, and the paramedics continued checking out the infant.
As far as I could tell, there was nothing dripping from my engine (always a good sign), and the only damage seemed to be to the bumper (paint scrapes from the other car, a piece broken off of my front license plate holder, and both ends popped off the body), the hood (bent up a bit on the right side, and the right headlight & turn signal (plastic cover broken off and in pieces). The engine sounded relatively normal as I'd pulled it over, and nothing was intruding into the space of either of the front tires, so the car seemed drivable, just dinged up. (Given that, it really must have been a relatively low-speed collision.)
I walked over to the curb near the intersection, picked up my headlight cover, tossed it in my car, and sat on the curb next to my car to wait.
The paramedics finished checking out the baby, who seemed to be sleeping peaceably. The paramedic commented that if the baby were really hurt, she'd most likely be screaming; he said that he wished his baby was as calm and collected as this one was. But of course, as they said several times to everyone involved, "Refusing treatment doesn't mean you can't go to the doctor later." They said they were going to take the baby to the hospital themselves anyway, just to be safe. Made sense to me and to the paramedics, who got a signature from me, recited their "you can still go to a doctor later" spiel, and headed out.
There I was, sitting on the curb, with the two women, big guy, and baby ten feet away; the friend & father took turns walking down the street to get a smoke while the other sat with the mother trying to get the baby to coo. I didn't really feel comfortable sitting there, having looks occasionally tossed my way, nor with the idea of striking up some friendly banter (though I really wanted to), but I also didn't want to seem callous by retreating into my car and starting to read the book I keep in the glove compartment. (Though that probably would have helped me calm down and stop shaking like a leaf, and spend the time waiting for the officer to finish writing up his report.)
Several cars that passed by stopped and engaged in banter with the officer while he was sitting in his car; only one of them was an unmarked police car (I heard the driver ask if our guy needed any help, and I saw the multiple aerials as the car pulled away), so he must know some of the residents of that area pretty well.
The tow truck for the other car showed up, and I had to move my car further forward so it could get at the other car.
The officer finished up at that point and came over to me. He handed me a "Driver Information Exchange" sheet listing both driver's license, vehicle, and insurance information. Then he explained that he would be giving the other driver a citation (and gave me a copy), and that the court date would be in a week and a half--on a day I'm scheduled to be giving a presentation at Notre Dame--and that I don't have to show up, but if I don't, the citation will get tossed out. He also said that in his years of doing this sort of thing, if it hadn't been for the witness, this would have completely been a he said/she said situation and a much different outcome--the other driver could have accused me of speeding, or running a yellow light, or any number of other things; but with the witness, it was very clear cut what had really happened. Then he said I was clear to go, and he walked over to talk with the other driver (and family--by this time an older woman, probably her mother, had also driven up), as they made sure they had everything out of the totaled car and correctly packed in the husband's car.
I called my insurance company, and got the last agent out of the office for the evening, mere seconds before he switched the phones over to ring to their answering service/call center, and made my report to him. He tried to tell me which garages in my area were affiliated with them and so the claim adjusting would be automatic if I went to one of them, but he didn't know my area of the suburbs, and I didn't know most of the streets he was rattling off, and those I did know were on the opposite side of the next suburb over. Finally decided to just take it to my dealer, where I've gotten every other repair done. Then I called kateshort back (she'd called while I was talking with the officer) to give her the full scoop. She encouraged me to make sure the dealer would do that kind of repair. So I did, and discovered that yes indeed, they send all body work to another shop in the area--a name I remembered hearing from the list the agent had read to me. That sounded like a good place to take it, but they'd closed for the day two hours before.
I drove home then, making sure to drive as carefully & defensively as possible. I also took surface streets the whole way, not wanting to break down (or get in another accident) on the tollway. (Besides, the traffic on the tollway was horrible, according to the traffic reports.)
On the way, I took a detour to follow the directions to the collision repair shop I'd gotten from my dealer's service dept. The "Authorized Toyota Repairs" sign next to the door convinced me this was definitely the place to take my Corolla. So while I was sitting in their parking lot, I called my insurance company back, got the call center, verified that this place was on their "select" list, and asked to change where I'd take the car. They also re-asked some of the same questions the agent had already asked, claiming that they would have had to call and ask me anyway to get a fuller picture than the agent did. (Again--they asked the same questions, and I gave the same answers.) The call center guy also explained some things the agent hadn't had time to, and answered my questions about the process, how long their end of things would probably take, and what my options were.
Then I finally got home--around 8 P.M.--and had a little dinner.
As the evening wore on, I gradually developed a little pain in my left ankle and the left side of the back of my neck. Nothing too bad, thankfully (a little acetominephen and it was gone for a while, though it came back the next morning).
The next day, kateshort and I dropped my car off at the collision repair center, then I dropped her off at home and drove to work. In her still-nearly-new car. On the way in, I had someone merge into my lane on the tollway then suddenly slow down, and got cut off by someone weaving in and out of traffic, who must've missed me by inches (or maybe it was feet, but I couldn't see his bumper) when he suddenly swerved into the lane in front of me. Thankfully, in both cases, I slowed down quickly enough to not hit them, and didn't get rear-ended myself. (kateshort probably would have killed me if I'd hurt her car, even if it wasn't my fault.)
After work, I drove home on the same route I'd taken the day before. As I approached that intersection, again in the right lane, again with a green light, there was a minivan in the left lane waiting to turn left, and a line of left-turners in the oncoming left lane. Deja vu all over again. I slowed down and observed that I really, truly could not see the first couple of oncoming cars around the mini-van next to me until I started to enter the intersection; even traveling at slower-than-posted speeds, there really was no way I could have seen the other car until it was too late for me to do anything. (Hopefully, the left-turners can see the right-front corner of oncoming cars before the oncoming cars can see them and thus don't normally commit to a turn until there really is room to get through the intersection.) Which made me feel better about managing to slow down as much as I did the day before, but also sent a chill down my spine at the thought of regularly driving through such a major blind spot.
The repair shop said they'd probably be able to order parts yesterday or today, so if there isn't further damage beyond what was visible (I haven't gotten the full estimate yet), hopefully it'll only be a week or two before I get my car back. And because of the insurance and the likelihood that the other driver will be found mostly or entirely at fault after the insurance agents negotiate liability, I should only owe my deductible ($250) at worst, and nothing at best.
Pictures, from after I got home
Feudalism: Serf & Turf