In the aftermath of a traffic accident, Jon Harrison is struck by where his focus was and where it needs to be.
7:27 am on a Monday morning.
The traffic is terrible and rush hour is about to get a bit worse. I am traveling southbound on I-95, thinking to myself how fortunate I am to not travel the interstate on my daily commute.
Traffic slows, then comes to a complete stop in the “fast” lane. I’m reflecting on the irony of the 70 mph speed limit sign nearby, when I notice in my rearview mirror a car zig-zagging wildly.
I watch helplessly as he pulls right behind my completely stopped vehicle in a bid to change lanes around me—only to crash smack into my driver’s side rear bumper.
By impatience and carelessness.
But it gets worse.
I go through the drill, turning on my emergency flashers and pulling off onto the left shoulder, while the driver who hit me pulls ahead, also with his flashers blinking.
But he doesn’t stop.
I watch with horror as he speeds up and starts to disappear into the distance. The blinkers, which go off as accelerates, were a fake. So I speed up and begin the chase, determined to snap a photo of his license plate. Just as I finish, the guy makes a sharp right turn—across four lanes of traffic—and exits the highway.
A hit and run.
I get angry.
But I continue to do what I’m supposed to.
I call Highway Patrol and report the accident, and I’m instructed to pull over and wait for an officer. I come to a stop on the left side of the road, blinkers still flashing, and get out to inspect the damage.
It’s not that bad—from what I can tell.
Some deep scrapes, a small gouge, a busted reflector.
I consider myself pretty lucky.
At this point, the tow truck arrives and the driver starts lining up orange cones to prevent the traffic (now moving at speeds in excess of 80 mph) from coming too close to my stopped vehicle.
I tell the driver what happened, and he makes the rather astute recommendation that I pull farther down the road and park in an area less likely to cause my untimely demise. He refers to the stretch of the road I’m on as the “Devil’s Altar,” and tells me I don’t want to end up as “another sacrifice.” I thank him and wisely relocate my car.
Finally the cop arrives, and I do my best to explain what happened. He collects my license, registration, and insurance information, the walks slowly back to his car to complete the report.
When he returns, I get my papers back along with a brief “Information Exchange” form that includes only my information on it. The other driver didn’t stick around to exchange anything.
Must have slipped his mind.
So what’s my take-away from the accident?
As I process my thoughts, I surprise myself.
I’m not thinking cynically about the guy who hit me.
I’m feeling deeply the importance of others.
Crazy, right? I just told you how I got rear-ended, and the whole time I was experiencing this event, my attention was focused on me. Me! I was so concerned about the damage to my car, the loss of my time, the hassle I was going through, how I was going to be late to where I was going….and the list goes on.
It was all about me.
But on reflection, I started thinking about others.
I thought about the drivers around me.
Have you ever witnessed a traffic accident? It can be a scary. Others around me were experiencing stress in their morning commute because of this event. Maybe one of them had been in an accident, and seeing this happen before their eyes brought back painful memories.
I thought about the driver of the tow truck.
I want to thank him for taking the time to stop and make sure I was OK. He literally put his life on the line while lining up cones to redirect speeding traffic around my car. He took the time to speak with me and recommend that I relocate my vehicle. He even provided me with advice on the safest way to reenter the traffic. Thank you.
I thought about the Highway Patrol Officer.
I often forget to think about how difficult a job the men and women of law enforcement have. I started thinking about the dangers involved. The officer said he would go to the address of the car that hit me and inspect for damage. I know the neighborhood that the highway exit leads to—it’s often in the news for violent crime.
He could be walking into a potentially dangerous or hostile situation—who knows why the car that hit me fled. It’s a crazy world we live in.
I thought about the other driver.
He was probably just as frightened or frustrated as I was by the whole event—perhaps even more. Who knows what was going through his mind. He had a choice to make, and rather than face the consequences of his actions, he chose to run. We all would like to think we would do the right thing when placed in a difficult situation—but not everyone does.
So where does all this thinking take me?
To the point of making choices. Ultimately, life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond.
I need to think more about others and less about myself.