Today’s post is “ripped from the headlines” of my current life. Yesterday I was stopped and issued a ticket for speeding for the second time in less than two weeks on the same stretch of road, although going in the opposite direction than before. The incident really rattled me. Once was bad enough, but the second time was infuriating. I don’t know who I was more angry at: myself for being so stupid, or the system that picks specific sections of highway where pretty much everybody goes over the posted speed limit to randomly choose one person to stop and punish. The officer told me he’s working as part of a program that’s trying to curb aggressive drivers, and speeding is part of aggressive driving. OK, I get it and I won’t argue that I wasn’t speeding or that speeding isn’t associated with aggressive driving. But to me there’s very little comparison between the kind of driving I was doing and the aggressiveness I see and experience on a regular basis from other drivers who tailgate me when they think I’m not going fast enough, or suddenly zip around me on the right on an on-ramp, or come flying by me going at least 80 in a 55 m.p.h. zone. I say they’re the ones who should be stopped, not me!
This ticket came in the middle of what has been a stressful week, fueled in part, I have to admit, by my self-imposed discipline of writing for this blog every day in April. But there are other things going on too, and I just have way too much on my mind right now, which might help to explain why I totally forgot my previous speeding ticket from less than two weeks ago when I was driving that stretch of road again yesterday. Had I remembered I would have been way more attentive to the speed limit. You can be sure I paid attention when I returned the same way!
As I obsessed about the incident, I couldn’t help thinking back to other unpleasant adventures on the road.
In 48 years of driving, I have had five accidents, four of which totaled the car. Now I know this may sound like a lot to some people, but only one of them could be construed as my fault. The first was when I was 17 and coming home from my summer job as a waitress at a Howard Johnson restaurant on the turnpike. As I was driving on the bridge over the turnpike, I glanced down to see how much traffic there was (since obviously, all the restaurant’s business came from turnpike traffic) and when I looked back at the road, a car was coming straight at me and we crashed. Amazingly, I wasn’t hurt badly, although a gash in my leg requiring stitches later developed into a blood clot that was excruciatingly painful. The accident could have been so much worse. I was able to get out of the car and limp to a local farmhouse after the accident and call my mother at work to tell her what happened. I don’t remember her or my dad ever giving me a hard time about the accident, even though it seriously inconvenienced them since I had wrecked our only car. It probably also cost them money they couldn’t afford. For a long time I was convinced the accident was my fault (and I probably said so to the officer at the scene). However, I now think it’s possible that the other car was driving way too fast for that back road and so he may have been as much at fault as I was.
The other four accidents I’ve had were clearly not my fault. Twice in less than a year back in the late 1980s I was rear-ended on 581. Derek was with me both times, poor guy, and his friend was also with us the first time. Both times the cars were totaled. Then just a few years ago, in the span of about 18 months, I was hit twice while I was driving and minding my own business. Both times I saw it about to happen but couldn’t do anything to get out of the way in time not to get hit. Another car totaled…. Of course, I got my little red Prius out of it so I guess it wasn’t all bad!
I’ve also done stupid little things, like back out of a parking space and hit another car. Years ago I did that and caused a very minor dent to the other car. The driver was irate and chewed me up one side and down the other. I was embarrassed and hurt that someone could be so mean and angry and show so little understanding of how things like that just happen sometimes – even to the best of us. At the same time, I know it’s really easy in the heat of the moment, when something scary has happened, to lash out; anger can be a reflex response to fear and trauma. When I was the victim of someone else’s negligence or carelessness, I remember consciously telling myself not to say some of the accusatory things that were on tip of my tongue.
Then there are all the accidents that could happen but don’t – when I absent-mindedly almost go through a red light or when I change lanes and don’t see a car that is in my blind spot; when someone changes lanes suddenly in front of me or doesn’t yield when they should have (or thought that because they are a tractor-trailer the yield rules don’t apply to them!). I think most people have come close to having an accident, and if they’re honest, sometimes being at fault. The highways are actually a lot safer than they could be, when you consider the potential for costly mistakes. Keeping that in mind, I try hard to be more gracious toward others than would be my normal tendency when I feel threatened and vulnerable, knowing that otherwise I can’t really expect the same graciousness from others when I make a mistake. I admit I’m not always gracious, but I try!!
I don’t want to make excuses for my speeding ticket, to say it wasn’t my fault, to minimize it by putting it in a larger context, or to place the blame somewhere else. I’m just describing where my mind went in the aftermath of getting another speeding ticket so soon and feeling like a really bad person for a little while!