I've always prided myself in being a safe driver, in paying attention to everyone around me and having avoided many accidents by being aware of what's going on around me.
I've always been worried about being rear ended on the freeway, especially in southern california where traffic can get quite heavy. I have a little routine every time traffic slows considerably to help lower my chances of being hit.
I put my hazard lights on so it draws extra attention to my car and I watch carefully in front of me while keeping an eye on my rear view mirror in case I need to pull onto the shoulder to avoid getting hit.
So last night when I was driving with my 2 children from San Diego to Los Angeles for an overnight trip, I followed my routine as traffic slowed- sped up- and slowed again.
About 30-40 miles from home, traffic slowed once again.
Out of habit, I put on my hazards and looked up into my rearview mirror.
I noticed the silver lexus behind me was slowing down, I breathed a sigh of relief. . .
But then, I noticed an orange BMW M6 flying up behind him- before I could even fully comprehend the information- that he wasn't slowing down- that he was going to hit the car behind me- that I was about to not only WITNESS an accident, but be INVOLVED in it-
I heard and felt everything smash around me. I'm not sure if I closed my eyes, but I know everything went black and the last thing I remember was turning my head to see my children screaming in the back seat.
It was a moment of true horror. I'm in a car accident. I tried to protect my children, I did everything I could to avoid this. I don't want this to happen. It's happening anyway. I cannot stop it. My kids are being hurt. I am being hurt. And there is nothing I can do to make it stop.
I have never felt so helpless in my life.
A left over soft drink sprayed all over us and for a split second, I thought it was blood.
Once we stopped sliding down the freeway and I could see clearly again I checked both kids for blood and assessed where the warm liquid was coming from. They were both terrified and screaming/crying at the top of their lungs.
After confirming that the kids were ok- no blood, no obvious broken bones, I started looking around me.
I looked ahead and confirmed that we had been catapulted into the car in front of us. My immediate thought was that my car must be totally destroyed.
The next order of events is a bit blurry. I remember that because I was still partially in the #3 and #4 lane on the freeway and noticed my car was still running- I decided to let off the clutch and see if I could get on to the shoulder.
My car slowly inched forward and out of the way of oncoming traffic.
My hazard lights were still flashing and several people ran to my car to check on us.
I didn't call 911 because I knew that by now probably 100 other people had already called. So I called Adam and explained that I was just rear ended, the car was likely totalled, but that the kids were OK. He asked where I was and we ended the call with his assurance, "I'm on my way."
I didn't know how or when he'd get there since I was in our only car, but I just focused on the kids and how I could help them/protect them from further trauma.
Then I got Mercedes out of the car so I could hold her. I picked her up and squeezed her and assured her- you're ok!
She was so upset and kept asking why the other cars didn't stop, and was really sad to see our car all beat up.
Next I unbuckled Bradshaw who also was wailing in terror. I checked both their bodies again for injuries and then we sat on the side of the road and cuddled together.
My next thought was to pull out my phone and start taking pictures.
Then I pointed to the orange BMW and said "Who was driving that?"
A man in a striped shirt raised his hand and said, "I was."
Calmly and cooly I said- "I'd like your insurance information right now."
I took a picture of his card. He looked very remorseful and tried to tell Mercedes it was ok and "not to cry."
I then talked to the gentleman who was in the silver lexus behind me. He was insistent that he had seen my hazard lights and stopped with an appropriate distance. "I know," I told him, "I watched the whole thing." I pointed to the orange BMW and said "It was all his fault. He didn't even slow down."
The driver of the BMW looked guilty, mortified, horrified etc. I think he saw my kids too and was realizing how close he came to hurting us or ending our lives. And also seeing the impact of the accident on the kids and myself consoling them. I just stared right back at him.
Next was an entourage of tow trucks, firetrucks, CHP, and paramedics swarming the area. It was crazy seeing how quickly and efficiently they dealt with the situation. They were all very friendly, kind, and helpful.
I was so relieved that we survived without any major injuries.
But my head was spinning. The whole situation was so random. One person wasn't watching what was happening around them. *I* was and even had gone above an beyond to draw everyone's attention to what was happening. I tried to watch behind me so I could move out of the way- none of it was enough.
Had I been a few cars ahead? a few cars behind? Had I been on the right side of the freeway instead of the left side?
How many times have I nearly been in the same situation? How many times have I seen other cars nearly be in the same situation?
Totally, utterly random.
After being checked out at the hospital, our neighbor drove us home (after she kindly gave Adam a ride to us in the first place.) It was scary being in the car and looking around at all the cars around us and feeling like we were seconds away from another random accident. One idiot. One wrong move. Boom. It could all be over.
Last night I laid awake replaying everything in my mind over and over. Thinking about how much worse it could have been. Contemplating the randomness of it. Contemplating the fact that many other accidents probably happened simultaneously on the planet and that the occupants many not have walked away like we all did.
I could have died. My kids could have died. We could have been badly hurt. And I couldn't stop it. Once the collision began, our lives were solely in the hands of our seat belts, car seat, and the structure of the car. There was nothing I could do but wait until it was over and hope that our safety measures would save us.
And in that moment, I was so thankful that they did. Thankful that cars are required to meet certain safety standards. Thankful that seat belts exist and that we were wearing them. Thankful for my sons 5 point harness. Thankful that my car handled the impact EXACTLY as it was designed to.
So very, very thankful. These things saved us. If any small thing had randomly been different, this story could have ended differently. And I'm sure for others who were in auto accidents yesterday, it did.
This is my reminder that I only live once and to make each day count.