Tuesday 27 May 2008

Was in a car crash this morning.

Don't worry, I'm fine. Just a bit shaken and tense and angry, but it wasn't even hard enough to set off my airbag or give me whiplash. It's the situation that's pissing me off.

I won't give any precise details of the location or the make of car in case any of this ends up in court or something, but I'll describe the crash itself because I'm genuinely interested to hear what people think about the liability for this one.

It's dual carriageway; the limit's 60 usually, but there are roadworks bringing the limit down to 40; so I reckon most people in the rush-hour traffic are doing about 50. So arrest them all, already. I'm approaching a point where the two lanes get divided by bollards on the cat's-eyes. The brake lights of the car in front of me come on, so I slow down, but the traffic is still moving quite fast. I then go through that excruciating and very quick series of — why are they slowing down? — brake a bit more — why are they still slowing down? — brake a bit more — oh shit — and I realise just too late that this car has inexplicably come to a complete stop and I can't swerve into the hard shoulder because it's full of a bloody great roadworks sign that I'd rather not have through my windscreen and head and I hit the back of the car.

My first thought was to wonder how I could have been so amazingly stupid not to have seen a tailback. But then I looked and saw that there wasn't a tailback. It was just this one car that had stopped.

The problem wasn't my stopping distance — I had plenty of that. The problem was that I didn't use it to stop. In fast-moving traffic, on a dual carriageway, with no junctions or traffic lights or obstructions or anything, I interpret brake-lights to mean "slowing down", not "stationary". I think most other drivers do the same. This, of course, is why so many drivers — me included — flick their hazard lights on at the first sign of a stoppage on a motorway: brake-lights alone aren't a strong enough signal in that context.

Now, I reckon I'm partly to blame for this. No matter what else, I am responsible for not driving into the car in front of me. But I don't think I'm mostly responsible. I know that you can fail your driving test for taking evasive action to avoid hitting a dog or cat, precisely because unpredictable driving makes the road more dangerous for every other driver on it and their lives are more important than an animal's, so I'm pretty sure that coming to a complete stop on a dual carriageway for no apparent reason would be an instant fail too. The other driver claimed afterwards that she had stopped because she suspected, but wasn't sure, that the car to her right might be trying to change lanes. This is another thing that was drummed into me in my driving lessons: never give way — again, because traffic is safe when it's predictable, and giving way when you don't have to makes it unpredictable and therefore unsafe for every other driver on the road.

What annoys me is that, as the law stands, absent witnesses to say otherwise, the person behind in a tail-ender is 100% to blame, no matter what. This instance strikes me as a little more complicated than that — and, to be fair, the other driver didn't seem to think she was blameless either. Trouble is, since she was in front, no matter what she thinks, her insurers will deny all liability, because they can. My insurers were quite reasonable and honest: they said that, if she's come to a complete stop on a dual carriageway, then she's largely to blame for the accident, and I stand no chance whatsoever of having the official record reflect that.

I only have third-party insurance. I was going to be selling the car in a couple of weeks anyway, and it's hardly worth my while getting it repaired just to sell it on. It's a few hundred quid down the drain for me either way. Oh well.

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