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Not Found in the Baby Book: Teen's First Fender-Bender

Not Found in the Baby Book: Teen’s First Fender-Bender

By Mir Kamin

I was 17, and I’d had my driver’s license for a year… maybe a year and a half. I used to have doctor’s appointments in a city an hour from home, because we lived in a small town and this particular specialist merited the drive. My father used to take me to my appointments, but I had my license. I could drive myself, I told him. For a few visits, he let me drive, but he came with me. Finally my parents agreed that I could go on my own. It was my longest solo trip, and I felt very grown up.

They made me leave super early for my appointment—just in case there was traffic—and I arrived so early, it seemed silly to sit and wait for the 45 minutes or whatever it was. I was going to be starting college just up the street from the doctor’s office in a few months; I thought I’d just drive a few loops around campus to familiarize myself with the layout. I had all that extra time.

The first loop was uneventful. I checked my watch. I still had plenty of time. I decided to do a second loop, a different way. And to this day I can’t tell you for sure what happened—I thought, at the time, that the other driver was making a right turn on red and didn’t see me, but in retrospect, there was an odd little intersection where there were two sets of lights very close together, and I may indeed have missed the second set and run a red light—but one moment I was driving down the road and the next I was bouncing off my window as this other car T-boned me on the passenger side.

It felt like forever, the crash, the noise, the mental inventory of what just happened? can I move? am I okay? are THEY okay??, but finally I looked around and realized my car was now in the middle of an intersection and probably should be moved out of the way. So I tried to move it, but it no longer drove. I was sobbing, though I don’t know that I realized it yet, and I got out of the car and went to talk to the other driver. He was okay, thankfully, and I suspect he was primed to be very angry until a small, sobbing kid approached his window. He got out and awkwardly patted my shoulder and asked if I was okay, and told me not to cry, we were both alright and it would be okay.

This was before cell phones, of course. Somehow, the cops showed up (I assume someone passing by called?), and a few passersby stopped to comfort me as I blubbered about how I didn’t even live there, I lived an hour away, and I was going to miss my appointment and oh, God, my mother is going to kill me. Everyone was very nice about it. Eventually one of the cops let me walk over to the doctor’s office (we crashed about two blocks away) to let them know what happened and to call my parents. My father made the drive to come and get me and deal with everything, and it felt like the longest day of my life.

The car was totaled. My father was very reassuring about it all—we’re just glad you’re okay, things can be replaced—but my mother asked me why I hadn’t just gone straight to my appointment. I explained that I had all that extra time and I was just trying to familiarize myself with the campus and I thought it was okay, but she was angry with me. “You had no business driving around,” she said. So: my fault. Whether it was my fault or not, it was my fault. This was a fairly common position for me as a kid, so I can’t say I was surprised. I just added it to my “I screwed up again” pile, even though I felt it was unfair.

Accidents happen. That was a long time ago. I’ve been in a few other accidents since then—occupational hazard of driving for coming up on 30 years—and while accidents are always scary and difficult, I remember that first one with crystal clear clarity. Oh no, what just happened? and my mom is going to kill me.

So when the phone rang yesterday and my 17-year-old daughter was on the other end, sobbing, saying she’d had an accident, somehow I went into Zen parenting mode. Are you okay? Have you both pulled off the road? Are you sure you’re okay? Take a deep breath, honey. It’s alright. Here’s what we’re going to do. Go talk to the other driver and see if they’re okay. Stay on the phone with me. I’m coming.

My husband and I were on opposite sides of town and ended up both going, unsure of which one of us could reach her first. She was badly shaken up. There was an elderly passenger in the other car and so an ambulance was called as a precaution, and my poor kid was convinced there was now an injured or killed “old person.” (Okay, it was hard not to laugh at that part.) She kept crying and apologizing and fretting and both of us kept just telling her: It’s okay. Things are fixable. We are not worried about the car, we’re worried about you. Thank goodness you’re okay. Thank goodness no one was hurt. The car is not a big deal. Money is replaceable, people aren’t. She was inconsolable, and even after we got home, the tears kept rolling down her cheeks, and she whispered, “I should’ve been able to swerve or something.”

I taught this child to drive, and while I will be the first to tell you that she can be both reckless and thoughtless in countless ways about a variety of life’s day-to-day happenings (as are most teens, just to be clear), she is perhaps the most cautious driver I’ve ever known. She’s a great driver. So as she beat herself up, I sighed and hugged her, and finally I held her at arms’ length and made her look me in the eyes.

“Were you texting?” Horrified, she shook her head no. “Were you blasting the radio and dancing?” Again, no. “Were you talking on the phone? Digging in your purse? Staring out the side window at something shiny?” Of course not. “You had an accident. They call them accidents because they’re accidental. If it happened because you were doing something wrong, then learn from that and don’t do that thing again. But this happened because sometimes accidents happen even when we do everything right, so stop beating yourself up. You were lucky. We were lucky. No one was hurt. Their car was barely scratched. Your car is fixable. Things happen. This could’ve been so much worse, but it wasn’t. Let’s focus on that.”

The car will be fixed. Life will go on. I held my firstborn close last night and told her the story of my first car accident, and how I was far from home and the car was totaled, and told her that now I can look back and laugh, and someday, she will, too. She didn’t seem to believe me, but she will. We all will. Eventually.

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About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • […] can read more about it over at Alpha Mom, though I’ll go ahead and give you the spoiler: Everyone’s fine. And, as my dad always […]

  • Kim too

    March 15, 2016 at 11:38 am

    I think there’s a tendency for us inattentive ADD types to be cautious drivers, but we know how easily we can be derailed. I also tend to be very forgiving driver for the same reason.  You have to be acting like a real jerk for me to believe you cut me off on purpose.
    But that doesn’t mean I’m going to be perfect, so I’ve perfected the “whoops, sorry!” wave.  I totaled 2 cars when I was young, both by hitting large trucks; I only hurt myself and not very badly.  But the only traffic violations I’ve ever had were for rolling stops and forgetting to register my car.
    I’m very glad the Chickie and the old person are ok. Well done, Mir.

  • Brenda

    March 15, 2016 at 11:48 am

    So glad she’s OK! My first accident didn’t even involve another car. I was driving my sister and me to work, and as I went to adjust the air vent, I drifted to the right at a cross street. I jerked the wheel to the left, but I still hit the curb, jumped up, and popped a tire/bent the rim when we landed. I was so panicked that my dad was going to kill me. A friend’s dad happened to be driving by (this was also pre-cell), and noting the look of panic, stopped and then drove us the few blocks home. My dad remained completely calm and drove my sister and I to work in the other vehicle. Accidents are so scary, so when people react with calmness it helps so much.

  • CIndy

    March 15, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    Glad everyone is OK! I remember my daughter’s first (only!) accident vividly. But not my own, funny how that goes. My girl, also a very careful driver, was on her way to school, little brother in tow, when a lady sideswiped her and KEPT GOING. I don’t think the lady even realized what she had done because my daughter moved to the other lane in an attempt to avoid her. It still totaled the car but it wasn’t a very expensive one. It is an awful, awful feeling to get that phone call and it’s been more than ten years yet I still feel slightly sick to think of it.
    My girl got the cell phone she had spent the last year begging for and a spectator to the whole event literally chased the lady down who hit her. Yay for kind folks who go out of their way to help others!

  • Kira

    March 15, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I am weeping here. I wish I could hug you all. Well done, mama. Well done.

  • js

    March 15, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    This made me cry and I have no idea why. So glad your girl and the other driver are alright.

  • RuthWells

    March 15, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Oh my god, poor Chickie. Give her a hug from me. I had my first accident at her age — I turned left at a light (it was dark out) and there was an oncoming car coming through the intersection that couldn’t stop in time. I think I thought I was in a left-turning lane and had right-of-way, but who the hell knows? I hope she can get right back on the horse. xoxo

  • Wendy E

    March 15, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    I remember my first accident vividly, along with my sister’s since I was with. I have also had my daughter have three accidents before she graduated high school. I will never forget the call from the last one. She said ‘help me I flipped my car’ turns out she was still in the car upside down at that point. Less than a mile from home. She was ok, we got there in minutes and others had already helped her out of the car. Vehicle was totaled but all that mattered was she was ok. Scariest calls ever and thank God for seatbelts.

  • Kristin

    March 15, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    I remember mine with perfect clarity too.  My daughter was in the carseat in the back – she wasn’t even 2.  Up til that point, I had hit inanimate, non-moving objects.

    My daughter as well has not had a true accident yet, involving another car.  

    But I do remember driving through town and seeing an accident and you know how you look to see if it’s anyone you know, yet fully expecting it won’t be?  Yeah, one of the cars was a friend of hers.  Just standing on the sidewalk alone bawling.  I quickly turned in and yelled her name and she just came running.  I didn’t even know her well, but gosh almighty she was not letting me go until her mom got there.  

    Glad yours is okay and you guys handled it well!  Very well!

  • Stephanie

    March 15, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    Everything was my fault, too when I was a teenager (I realize that some of this is perception, but it really was pretty much the way it was in my house).  And my first car accident was no different.  I don’t remember the words, but there was a lot of lecturing and yelling from my parents.  I was completely at fault, legally, and I don’t really remember the details of the accident, but I do, very vividly, remember how my parents’ reaction made me feel. 
    My brand new driver of a daughter backed into a parked car last summer, leaving for band camp.  She had had her license for less than a week.  I was at work, five minutes away, when I got the phone call.  She was sobbing, and said “You’re going to kill me”.  I remembered my first accident, and my parents’  reaction, and I had one of my proudest parenting moments so far.  I was calm, I talked her down, and we handled it.  I did not lecture, I did not yell. At all. No one was hurt, just some damage to the other car.  No biggie. The owner of the other car was extremely nice, and so was the responding police officer, who even told the story of his first accident right after he got his license.
    Long story to say that you did good, Momma.  And your story obviously struck a cord with me.  I often find myself as a parent trying to NOT handle something the way that my parents did. Interesting.

  • Tracy

    March 15, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    It took three cops and then a supervisor cop (lieutenant?) to verify that it was definitely not my fault that the other guy hit me. I don’t know the details, because there is a blank spot in between turning onto the road, and staring at the light pole that was now in the midst of the dent in the front of my car. But the other guy never saw me somehow, and turned into me. I was 17 and less than a block from my own home.

    I will always wonder about the precise details – did I see him turning? did I know I was about to get hit? Was there anything I could have done? (answers: probably not, probably not, nope – nothing). My car was totaled and I had a concussion and whiplash, but everything turned out okay. You did great, mom. So did mine.

  • TC

    March 16, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    I’ve found that getting back on the horse–as it were–after a car accident is the worst part. Especially when it WASN’T your fault; at that point, you realize that anything can happen at any time, no matter how much in control you like to think you are. It’s paralyzing. Make sure Chickie gets back on the road, soon. And give her a hug from me, even if she has absolutely no idea who I am. Just because I, too, am the mother of a young woman who is in her first year of driving, and I don’t even want to imagine getting that call, which I fully expect will happen some day. [TC knocks wood vehemently.]

    • Mir Kamin

      March 18, 2016 at 9:59 am

      It took some cajoling, but we managed it. I was worried about that, too. The first post-accident drive is always the hardest.

  • qfiffle

    March 17, 2016 at 12:58 am

    My first prang happened the first time my parents let me drive to school. I timed it carefully so that I’d get there right on the bell, so that everyone would see me arrive. I pulled into the carpark right in front of a bunch of teachers, my best friends, and half the rest of the school. And didn’t stop in time. I went right through the fence. 

  • Meri

    March 17, 2016 at 3:30 am

    Hugs to both of you, accidents are scary. So glad to hear she’s okay.

  • Heather

    March 17, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    I ran into a deer in the work vehicle the other night.  It was kinda terrifying.  Thankfully all the supervisors etc I had to talk to were really nice and were focusing on the fact that I was okay and not so worried about the vehicle.

    • Mir Kamin

      March 18, 2016 at 10:00 am

      I’m glad you were okay!!

  • Pip

    March 29, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    I still haven’t had an accident! I’m 30 and only passed my test last year – anxiety and dyspraxia combine for an interesting time passing driving tests in the UK. 

    Last year when we were moving house, I was trying to parallel park while extremely hungry and shaking, and my spatial awareness went. I was driving sooooo sloooowly so as not to do any damage but that didn’t stop somebody getting out of their car to come and angrily tell me I’d “crashed into” both the car in front and the car behind in my efforts. No mark on the car in front, no mark on the car behind. No mark on my car. Lady just made me burst into tears and give up.