By Jordan W. Charness

“Peter, what happened to your car?” The front grill was smashed in, the bumper was seriously bumped, the paint was cracked, and the front of the hood looked like the front pleats of an accordion. Aside from that the car looked just fine. Peter had clearly been in an accident. But from the looks of things it had not been life threatening.

Just bringing up the topic seemed to stress Peter. He got that exasperated look on his face. The same one I usually get from my children when I tell them to clean up their rooms or to do anything else that they seem to feel is unreasonable and unfair. Peter definitely seemed to feel that this accident had been unreasonable and unfair. He was just bursting to tell his side of the story.

“It really wasn’t my fault!” exclaimed Peter. “He stopped suddenly and I hit him from behind.”

“Umm. I hate to tell you this Peter,” I quietly pointed out. “If you hit him from behind it probably was your fault.”

“No, it wasn’t!” Peter fairly shouted at me. “That’s what everybody says, but I would expect better from you! Will you just listen to the whole story and then decide?”

After listening to Peter’s story I could see why he was so perturbed.

We tend to think of our city streets as perfectly laid out intersecting squares crisscrossing each other at 90-degree angles. But if we really think about it, nothing is farther from the truth. A large number of our streets are anything but straight. They twist and turn and in some cases meander about so much that the same street ends up going North, South, East and West!

The intersections are not always clear 90 degree angles either. The one that Peter was complaining about was an intersection of a straight road and a really large semicircle. In order to join up with the semicircular street, Peter had to stop at a stop sign before an access way bearing right that immediately joined up with the right hand side of the semicircle.

In order to properly stop and make sure that there was no oncoming traffic, Peter was required to look not only to his left side but slightly to the rear and around the curve as well. This is a fairly busy intersection and the cars on the semicircle do not have any type of stop sign at all.

When Peter came to this intersection he was number three in line. The first car in line came to a complete stop and then safely moved on into traffic. The car just ahead of Peter also came to a complete stop and looked around the curve before proceeding. Peter knew that just because it was apparently safe for two cars ahead of him to proceed did not mean that he could be any less careful at the stop sign. He too came to a complete stop and checked carefully for traffic coming around the semicircle.

There was a car coming around the turn but Peter judged that it was far enough distance away for him to proceed. He moved ahead a little quicker than usual but still well within the speed limit. While moving forward he kept his attention on the car coming around curve to make sure that he had indeed been right and that there would be no collision between him and that car. That’s when he smacked into the car ahead of him.

What Peter had failed to notice was that the car that had come to the stop sign just ahead of time had for some reason, known only to that car’s driver, stopped again about 15 metres past the stop sign. Peter was not expecting this car to have stopped and had assumed that the car was long gone.

Peter’s attention was fully focused on the car coming up behind him and to his left in the semicircle and he was only giving a little bit of his attention to what was directly ahead of him. He was relying on the image that he had just seen of the car ahead of him moving off down the road. Unfortunately for Peter the picture in his head no longer corresponded to the reality of the road.

“So you see,” Peter finished with a flourish, “it really wasn’t my fault. If the car ahead of me had continued forward as it was supposed to do instead of stopping suddenly I never would have hit him.”

Although what he said was true, it really did not help Peter’s case terribly much. Most accidents can be explained away by the driver who caused the accident by blaming the victim. (My police officer friend Sergeant McGrath told me once that a driver quite seriously told him that “suddenly the tree popped out of nowhere and I hit it!”)

The fact of the matter remains that you are always obligated to keep a safe distance from the car ahead of you. You should always keep in mind that the car ahead might stop suddenly. If it does there will be no excuse for you to plough into its rear. This type of accident was indeed Peter’s fault. Don’t let it happen to you

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