QOTD: What was your first car accident?

New driving licence: check. Authorised access to a car: check. All the pieces were in place, so it was bound to happen sooner or later. The first accident, I mean.

Mine was “sooner”: the very first time I was allowed to drive by myself, most of three decades ago, I got in my folks’ two-year-old red VW Jetta GL Wolfsburg, carefully buckled in and checked my mirrors and seat adjustment, and carefully drove the easy, straightforward 7.8 miles to Cherry Creek Shopping Center to put in a job application at Brookstone (why yes, for the matter of that, I did grow up in the suburbs…what makes you ask?). I carefully pulled into the parkade, carefully angle-parked nose-in between the lines of a legitimate parking space, carefully locked the car, went and gave in the application.

Then I got back in the car, buckled in, carefully checked all round again, started the engine, released the handbrake, and carefully reversed out of the spot while carefully steering the wrong direction. Krunch, etc.

Instantly the parkade was full of people who hadn’t been there before, and of course they were all looking in my car—even the ones I couldn’t see. I put the car back in Park, set the brake, shut it off and unbuckled with a shaky right hand, and walked round to look: I had hit a concrete post with the right front corner of the car, which now looked much like the left front corner of the car in the pic above (which I grabbed just now off the internet): front bumper off its mount, side marker light smashed. Other bent-looking parts, but no crumpled metal or leaking fluids or dragging pieces. Completely driveable, but I was completely mortified: see this what I’ve done! The first, the very first time out, and see this what I’ve done!

Adjectives don’t exist to describe the degree and depth of shame and failure and dread I felt. I just sat there for awhile, but eventually had to get going—mostly so I wouldn’t be gone so long as to ignite parental worry by exceeding the “flight plan”, in those wired-phone days—so I hyper-carefully, slowly drove home.

First exchange when I walked in the front door, I had to say “I kinda had an accident with the car”. Anybody hurt? No. Crash with another car? No. I explained what had happened, we all went outside to look, my folks spoke with me about what had gone wrong, we all agreed it was a matter of pure inexperience, we had a friend who was one of the best car accident lawyers in Los Angeles, walk us through the process, the car got fixed—it wasn’t anywhere near so awful as I’d felt, and we were fortunate enough to be well-insured and situated such that an unexpected car repair didn’t endanger our wellbeing—and life went on. You bet I am, to this day, extra-conservative in parking manœuvres! (I’m also not much damn good at ’em unless in a car with unusually good sightlines and a tight turning radius, but I don’t have a RWD Volvo any more, so I recently added a front-and-rear Bosch Park Pilot to my ’07 Accord. It helps more than I hoped, and I sweat less.)

The silver lining—retrospectively, mostly, kindasorta, I think maybe—to the cloud of a substantially friendless childhood was exemption from peer pressure to do stupid things; I didn’t drink, smoke, take drugs or bets or dares or joyrides or things that didn’t belong to me—none of that. This parkade krunch could’ve been a whole hell of a lot worse in any of many ways: It could’ve been a traffic crash, I could’ve hit a pedestrian or a bicyclist, I could’ve been in my dad’s ’62 Dodge instead of the ’90 Jetta.

My folks and I did everything we could to avoid the krunch: they decided with me when they’d watched me drive long enough to be reasonably confident in my abilities, they decided with me where I’d go, and within what approximate timeframe. Me, I did all the pre-trip checks systematically and carefully, I observed all the rules and laws and regulations, and I paid attention to what I was doing. I just didn’t have the muscle memory, gainable only by experience, that would have warned me the wheels were turned the wrong way relative to where I was looking/going, nor the task experience to automatically devote a portion of my attention to keeping track of where the wheels are pointed. No matter how many or few hours of driver training, there are aspects of operator performance (i.e., driver behaviour) that improve only with accrued experience.

And the folks reacted to the krunch in a thoughtful, reasonable manner: they didn’t freak out or exaggerate its seriousness—a courtesy I wasn’t expecting; it hadn’t been extended a year and a half previously when my sister spuriously accused me of breaking into that same Jetta in the high school car park. This time, though, we discussed in detail what happened, and why, and how variants of the same situation could result in much worse outcomes, and how to avoid that kind of lapse in future. We decided together when it was time for another try. I don’t recall there being much of a delay on that; this was not really the sort of lesson that could be meaningfully enhanced with punitive or arbitrary discipline.

Awright, your turn: tell about your first accident, incident, crash, or crackup.