How I Totaled My Car (PS: I’m Fine)

Athena Scalzi

On December 12th, I went to my friend’s ugly sweater party at her house in Columbus. After a few hours of socializing and dancing (badly), I ended up starting my trek home at around 2:30am. It’s not the longest drive in the world, but it is long enough to be a pain in the ass, especially in the middle of the night.

It only took me about ten minutes to get out of Columbus, and then it was smooth sailing on the interstate. It was one of those times where it seemed like there was truly no one else on the road, except the occasional semi all the way in the right lane. Maybe it’s because it was so late (or so early).

I was all the way in the left lane, going the usual highway speed of about 75mph, when suddenly there was a tiny little piece of something in the road. I ran over it and thought, huh, I wonder what that was. Then, for the briefest second, I saw a destroyed car in the right lane, and by the time I looked back at the road, there was huge piece of something in the road.

It was large enough, in fact, that upon running over it, I caught air, my airbags went off, my front tires popped, and my vehicle was immediately totaled.

With my ears ringing and my eyes wide from being stunned by the airbags, my first thought was did that really just happen? and my second thought was I should pull over.

And so I pulled over into the left shoulder, threw it into park, and immediately got out to breathe in the non-smoky, freezing night air. The adrenaline hit was instant, and I knew it was why I started shaking immediately, separate from the cold. Upon getting out, I realized I hadn’t gotten over enough, and part of my car was still in the left lane. I pushed aside the airbags and got back in, and tried to pull over more, but my car was completely dead. The underside had been ripped apart by whatever I hit, and fluids from my engine were gushing out onto the pavement.

Again, I got out and looked back at the car that I had seen. The smashed car was across the highway from me, and it looked like it had been rear-ended so hard that the back half was pancaked into the front half. Obviously, it had been in a collision, so where was the other car? I looked ahead on the highway, and it was so dark out I almost missed it, but there was the other car, flipped upside down in the middle lane.

Immediately, I ran towards the flipped over car. All I could think about was how there were probably people trapped inside, hurt or dying, and I wanted to help. It was further away than it looked. Turns out highways are pretty massive.

Upon reaching the car, I called out, “Hello?” Immediately I heard the sound of someone on the inside banging on the windows.

“Help me! Let me out!” they yelled. I tried pulling on the doors, but they were locked, or maybe just stuck, but either way I couldn’t open them.

“I can’t get the doors open,” I replied. It was then that a semi blew past me a few feet away, and it occurred to me that I was quite literally standing in the middle of the I-70. I looked back to see if there were any other cars coming, considering that they could smash right into the flipped over car (and me) if they were traveling in the middle lane, and in looking back I saw that a highway patrol officer had pulled up to the smashed car I initially saw.

“The cops are here, I’m going to tell them you’re trapped,” I told whoever was inside.

I ran back to my car and saw the cop standing by the other car talking to someone.

“Help!” I yelled. They both looked over and the cop yelled back, “Stay there!” I stayed put and waited for him to run over to me.

“Someone’s trapped in their car!” I pointed to the flipped car, which was barely visible, to which the cop said “my god,” and ran to it.

The next thing I knew, three more patrol cars and three ambulances showed up. I stayed by my car and stood in a place that I was easily visible, and was approached a couple of times by different officers asking me if I was hurt. I kept saying no, then they’d go off and deal with something more urgent.

As I stood around, I decided to look around some more and take pictures, because I found the whole thing kind of interesting and figured this was a pretty rare occurrence. In doing so, I followed the trail of red metal from my car back to where I hit the thing in the road, and I discovered that it was the back axle of the first car I saw. One of the tires was still attached.

They shut down the highway by laying down a line of flares, causing a traffic jam. I thought about how much I would’ve hated to be stuck in traffic at 3am.

Eventually, a paramedic came up and asked the same thing I’d been asked a dozen times, and while I assured him I wasn’t hurt, I mentioned that I was cold, and it was starting to make me numb. So he took me to one of the ambulances and let me sit inside to take my information until another officer was ready to take my statement.

“Is there someone hurt? Does anyone need this ambulance?” I asked as I stepped in. “I don’t want to take it if someone else needs it more.”

“No, no one is hurt,” he replied. “The other two drivers are fine, you all refused treatment so no one is getting taken to the hospital.” All three of us were completely uninjured? That seemed lucky.

After a bit, an officer came and told me to come with him to his car, and I sat in the front seat and filled out a paper giving my statement. The guy from the first car I saw was sitting in the back seat doing the same thing.

“Where’s the other guy?” I asked the officer, who then informed me the other driver was impaired, so he was in the back of a different car (most likely in cuffs). Then, a tow truck came and started taking my car away.

The officer got out to do something, and I turned around to talk to the guy.

“Okay, what the hell happened?” I asked. He told me that he was traveling in the center lane going about 70mph, when suddenly this other car came flying up behind him, going at least a hundred if not over. He claimed that he tried to get into the right lane to get out of his way, but in the middle of doing so was smashed into and went spiraling out of control, meanwhile the car that hit him flipped over.

Somebody came and picked that guy up from the scene a few minutes later. Meanwhile me and the other driver got taken back to the station. I sat in a room and waited for my ride. The impaired guy was put in the room next to me, and I heard the officers tell him he was going to jail, and then I heard him start sobbing.

I got picked up at around 5am, and it was about another hour and a half before I was able to lay down in bed and finally sleep.

Long story short, there was an accident, I was just minding my beeswax when I suddenly hit the debris from the accident. My accident was considered separate from the other accident. I was not cited for anything and was assured by the officers many times that I was at fault for nothing, no one was hurt, and I don’t know if the impaired driver ended up getting actually sentenced to jail or if he just got his license revoked. I got a new car the next day (a used car), and started driving again immediately.

Now, it’s been almost three weeks and I feel okay. Though, things in the road scare me far more than they used to. I never realized how much shit there is in the road all the time. Plastic bags, soda cans, branches, there’s so much that we just casually run over everyday and it obviously doesn’t affect your car or anything.

But there have been several times over the past three weeks when it wasn’t just a can. I was driving to the grocery store and there was an entire full trash bag in the other lane. Like one of the heavy duty black trash bags. Another time, I was on the highway again and there was a huge board of wood laying in the road that I had no choice but to run over. Shortly after that, there was an entire tire!

Sometimes, you hit things, and it’s just a little bump, other times, you hit an axle and it destroys your car.

So, yeah, my anxiety has been a little higher. I’m hoping it goes away after a while. Here’s a selfie I took while I was in the cop car.

It’s New Years Eve! Don’t drive drunk! You could flip your car. Or kill someone. You know how it goes. Have a great holiday!


96 Comments on “How I Totaled My Car (PS: I’m Fine)”

  1. I’ll note that when Athena texted us from the scene of the accident, the very first text was “I’m fine,” which then made to follow-up texts a lot easier to handle.

  2. Gosh, Athena, I’m glad you’re okay! On a recent column, I just asked your Dad about you, because I hadn’t seen you post here in a while. I’m sorry you had to go through that, and I hope you recover from the trauma as soon as you can.

  3. Athena, so glad you are uninjured and healing mentally. I know it doesn’t seem so close to the event, but this is one of those stories you’ll tell when you’re older as an adventure and learning experience.

    I remember some of my late-night trips home when I was younger. Even though I was not chemically altered in any way, tiredness caused hallucinations and highway hypnosis. If my parents had known, they would have grounded me for life. From my older perspective, it’s better to sleep on the couch or the floor than to risk the drive home in the dark, if it’s a fair distance.

    Take care.

  4. I am so glad that you are okay
    That sounds like a very scary event and I can understand being anxious as a result

  5. Holy balls Athena. I’m so glad you are ok. This is all scary stuff. Everyone is unbelievably lucky that nobody was seriously harmed. Whew.

  6. It’ll go away after a while. You got back on the road as soon as possible, that’ll definitely help get back to normal, for whatever the going value of normal is. But yeah, noticing all the shit in the road is going to last you a while.

    Back when I T-boned the drivers side door of a car, it took months of recovery before I could get back on the road. Really skittish at first, seeing little red Fiat 500s everywhere. (The downside of a motorcycle, when things go wrong, they go wrong a bit more acutely than in a car.) But eventually things settle down again…

    Glad you’re okay.

    @John: Downside of emergency rooms, they put your phone away so you can’t respond after texting “I’m ok”.

  7. So glad no one was hurt in what could have been a tragedy. Happy New Year and safe driving ahead!

  8. Glad you’re OK.

    This is probably the best right up I have ever read of an accident that someone was involved in, and a great warning to those who drink-and-drive.

    Thank you.

  9. Thank the Holy Socialist Ghost you are OK. Have a much more fortunate 2022, each and every one of us! Sto lat on your related Birthday!*

    *(Polish for ‘may they live a hundred years.’)

  10. Wow! You were so lucky to have survived without a scratch! When were Mom and Dad notified? They must have freaked out.

  11. I’m glad you are OK, and not surprised that you knew to put “I’m fine” first when contacting your folks. That really helps! Whenever I’ve had to do notifications I’ve put the person’s status first; the stress caused by folks simply saying “there’s been an accident” can be extreme.

    And modern cars are amazing! A hard look causes a $700 repair, but they will keep you safe in accidents that would have killed when I was your age.

    Good for you doing your best to help others, at considerable risk.

    I urge people to keep a glass breaking tool in the glove box (does anyone say glove box anymore?). About $5 or so, and can be an actual life saver. The hammer type is best, as it can clear glass from the edges of a window. These usually include a seat belt cutter (protected blade for safety in removal). Can rescue yourself or others pretty easily.

  12. I’m so glad that you are not injured! I hope that helps with the anxiety. I still have PTSD from an auto accident that happened 40+ years ago when I was on the passenger side, which means I am the worst passenger ever, even all these years later. My own anxiety about riding in a passenger seat meant that I drove everywhere for years. It’s a bit better now for me and I hope the anxiety eases for you, too.

  13. Athena –
    Glad you feel okay. May I suggest that you see a good chiropractor and have x-rays taken? I drove for many years on the streets and freeways of the Los Angeles basin and was involved in several minor traffic accidents over that time. I too thought I was fine until back pain started years later. X-rays showed that my spine had been forced out of alignment by the various impacts. Chiropractic treatments resolved the issue.
    Consider this incident another step in your life experiences. It may take a while to fully recover from the emotional and psychological fractures. For me it was usually a few months of distress, though the shadows of some incidents lasted longer. When something like this happens again, you will know that in a crisis you do the right things. You will know that you can cope in the moment and afterwards. Life is complicated. Stuff happens. You have learned a bit more about who you are as a person.
    Thanks again for the excellent reporting of a traumatic event. You are indeed fine. Continue to do well and know that the followers of this blog support and respect you.

  14. Glad you weren’t hurt. I was 26 and taking a carful of young cousins to the caves for a fun afternoon in 1999 when I was sideswiped by a semi coming up beside me at 75 mph. I saw it coming in my rearview but couldn’t get out of the way in time of those spinning lugnuts sawing into the side of my car, throwing giant sparks. I fishtailed but managed to keep from swerving in the path of the semi … and then the fucker sideswiped me AGAIN.

    Again, just barely managed to right the car and pull onto the shoulder. 22 years later, I still worry every time a semi is beside me, and do not linger. I told my younger sister learning to drive at the time, if you have to speed to 90 to pass a semi, do it; don’t stay beside it.

  15. Athena, that is NOT how we wanted to have you posting again on Whatever. I am glad you were unhurt. I will also say that was a very well-written post! Also, maybe this will make you smile–I got some jam based on your review ages ago (it was good) and my house still has jam–we apparently don’t eat it as quickly as the Scalzi house! May the New Year see you all healthy and happy.

  16. When I was around your age, I was broadsided by someone running a stop sign. No injuries, but for weeks I would flinch if a car was sitting at an intersection on my right. It gets better, but even now (40? years later), I often slow down as I approach an intersection if a car is there. That’s ok. Makes me a more careful driver.
    Thanks for the reminder to all about drinking and driving. No drink is worth the life or injury of any person.

  17. Wow! I’m so glad you and the others are okay. This is a story you will never forget. Take it easy and hope that your 2022 is less eventful in the category of “bad things happening.”

  18. So glad you’re OK, glad your first words to parents were “I’m fine”, and SUPER glad for seat belts and airbags all around!

    Wear your seat belts, folks.

  19. Holy Moly! (is that right? I’m English!)
    Quite the recently into blogging!! Glad to hear you are ok AND, if you don’t mind me saying, that was a good piece of writing!

  20. P.S. The other takeaway from this for everyone: If you get out of your car after a wreck, IMMEDIATELY put a guardrail between you and the road if at all possible!

  21. So glad you’re ok!

    I’m impressed at how well you handled everything, including finding the turned-over car and checking the person inside it. I wouldn’t have been that self-possessed in my 20s or even 30s.

    I’m sure your parents have a few more gray hairs now!

  22. Hi, Athena. I am so very glad you are okay, and the anxiety is completely understandable. I’ve hit road debris enough to sideline myself a couple of times and it’s a very scary thing, even if you aren’t hurt.

    I’m also super impressed with your wherewithal regarding the other people there; you seriously have your act together, Lady. Here’s to a new year with less middle-of-the-night adventure. Stay awesome!

  23. Glad you’re OK! Car accidents are bad even if they are just fender-benders. I admire your composure during all of this. Hope your anxiety fades soon… that’s never fun.

    FWIW, my spouse and I are staying home this NYE. Mostly because of Omicron, but I never like to drive this evening.

  24. Not only did I miss your birthday, I missed your car’s death!

    FWIW, it sounds like you did everything right. Like, textbook perfection.

    stayed aware of your surroundings on the mostly empty highway
    controlled the vehicle through a significant crash.
    had presence of mind enough to get off the road (mostly).
    Surveyed the situation before trying to take any other action.
    Mad sensible, safe decisions about how to get better help.
    Documented it visually.
    Started your messages to your parents with “I’m fine.”

    Seriously, someone could write this up as EXACTLY what to do.


  25. ❤️❤️❤️You did everything right. I’m glad everyone is OK. If the impaired gentleman goes to jail, that is where he needs to be. And thank you for your message about NY eve. I avoid drunk drivers by staying home.

  26. PS You’re fine! That made reading your blog post way better.

    Years ago in the middle of afternoon rush hour on a crowded freeway I had the choice of running over a rake or smashing into other cars. I was relieved that the rake didn’t trash the underneath of my car but it sure trashed the tire. Shortly after I calmed down from a blowout at speed, I learned that if your wheel lugs have been tightened at a tire place, you aren’t getting them loosened with a tire iron and woman-power.

    Pro tip: Make sure you’ve got a 3′ minimum length of pipe in your vehicle that fits over the end of the tire iron to give leverage that’ll get those lug nuts loose.

  27. Aside from being glad that you were uninjured. I note that you immediately went into journalist mode. Most interesting.

  28. Airbags are amazing. A few years ago, stopped at a red light, I heard a metallic screech, followed by a loud bang, as the Kia whose driver didn’t see the red light hit the Mercedes behind me. Hard enough to total my car. The Kia looked like a missile hit it. The engine was on the windshield. The driver of the Kia sprained his wrist when the airbag deployed.

  29. Once, the landscaping truck in front of us fishtailed and scattered retaining-wall bricks across the freeway – which were grey on grey, so we didn’t really have a very good sense of the size. Anyway, we went straight over the one that landed in the middle of our lane, and we were going about ~70mph (speed limit 75, and there was not much time to slow down). Much the same thing in terms of airtime, surprise, steer car to the side of the road, and wow, there is no longer any underside to the car.

    We were told that going straight over one instead of trying to veer around and hitting it with a tire probably saved our bacon, in terms of not flipping the car or sending us off the highway, even though it very thoroughly totaled the car (although obviously if we could have avoided them entirely, that would have been preferable! …but not quite possible with where we were and the distribution thereof)

    I have been curious as to whether, if we had slowed down more, it would have stopped the car instead of the car flying on over it, and if that would have caused more internal human damage. No clue, really.

    But anyway: glad you are well, glad the other drivers also were fine, and whew.

    And everybody: Don’t Drive Drunk (or “slightly tipsy” or impaired by any substance) and everyone be especially careful on the roads tonight as some people will likely have made bad choices.

  30. Glad you weren’t hurt. I just had to replace our vehicle for the third time in five years (2nd time in just over a year), all caused by inattentive drivers slamming into the vehicles. Only had some minor injuries from the first; still had $900 in ambulance & ER charges to be told, yes, they’re only minor injuries.

    My continuing ire is with the fact that replacing a car always costs more than insurance pays out (plus all the time & energy sucked up dealing with insurance paperwork and –UGH– car-shopping). The 2016 accident cost $2500 out-of-pocket to replace the totaled Outlander; the 2015 Nissan cost $4000 out of pocket to replace, and the latest, a 2018 Nissan, is costing $6000 out of pocket to replace with a 2019 model. [glowers at all the inattentive drivers in the world]

  31. Oof. Stuff happens, doesn’t it. Kudos on handling things so well, Athena, as everyone else is saying. Commenters, thanks for the various tips – I shall look for LED flares and a glass breaker.

  32. Another vote for “Thank Deity you were okay, and everyone else was okay, and you did everything almost textbook perfect in an emergency.” Good piece of documentary writing about a somewhat traumatic experience, too.

  33. Glad you’re ok. But brought back memories. Riding in the back seat on I270 in my father’s 3 day old new Cadillac. Speeding pick up hit us from behind and flipped over our car. My father’s car was totalled as was the pick up. Convinced he was drunk but they took him to a military hospital so the police never got to do a test.

  34. Whenever you feel like beating yourself up, remember you did everything right when it counted.

    So glad you’re okay!

  35. In 1987, coming home to Alberta from BC after seeing U2 on their Jello Tree tour, I rolled my car one and a half times into a ditch in the mountains (ice on the highway after a fog on a curve), which left a friend in the hospital for a couple of weeks (internal injuries because back then most cars only had lap belts). I remember the first time I did a highway drive, almost a month later, I had to pull over, get out of the car, and crouch down to remember how to breathe and to tamp down the momentary panic.

    Hopefully the same thing won’t happen to you, but if it does just know it’s not necessarily unexpected or wrong. Glad you’re okay.

  36. Athena, I am so grateful you are in one piece. Please be cognizant of any strange feelings (besides anxiety) that come up. If you find you need extra rest, find electronics make you irritable, are still experiencing chills, odd cravings (I craved coffee) … please get checked out. Accidents like this can cause a concussion. Even if your airbags go off.

    Peace by with you.

    ~The Poster Child for Post Concussion Syndrome aka Hope

  37. Athena, glad to hear you’re all right, and sorry your car got totaled.

    That sounds like quite an accident, and you handled it a lot better than than we did when a drunk driver plowed into the side of our car some years back….

  38. A) Good job, Athena.
    B) (In my EMS-instructor mode) : Checking “is the scene safe?” comes first next time. Please? Try to make it a habit, OK? Because it would really suck if the only ambulance with a patient had you in it. It would probably put your dad’s writing off-pace for months!

  39. Congratulations on dealing with a wreck so calmly.
    Reminds me of the time in the early 80s, we were driving down a dark country highway, came around a road to see a car coming in the opposite lane, a steep ditch on the right, and something that looked like ET in the middle of our lane.
    Woke up my husband by yelling “I’m sorry, I have to hit it!”
    I slowed enough that when we hit, it dragged under the car, sending up sparks.
    It was an entire transmission unit.
    So yeah you become very aware of debris on the road.
    We drove to our destination with no problem, got up the next morning to drive off, and the right tire was no longer connected to the steering.

    Glad you are safe,

  40. I’ll join the others in saying I’m VERY glad you’re OK, and that you handled it well.

    Just out of curiosity, was anyone masked? One of my fears is being involved in an accident and having to deal with unmasked law enforcement or EMT people (I live in hardcore anti-vax country). I know you’re vaccinated, but I hope you weren’t exposed.

  41. Thank Heaven you are okay, Athena! Thank you for keeping a cool head! I had a courier route at night a while back and I ran over a dead wolf one time! Our plans for the evening involve staying at home (and would, even if there wasn’t a thirty-degree temperature drop and freezing rain on the way!) All the best for the New Year!

  42. Glad you were uninjured.

    As for totaling cars…2018 was the year in which I owned three different 2014 Ford Fusion Titanium sedans with AWD. Two of them were rear-ended and totaled, while I was stopped at stoplights on my way home from work. No injuries either time, but the first car, though driveable, was deemed too expensive to fix when I took it into the body shop, and the second had to be removed from the scene by a tow truck.

    Thankfully, the third one survives to this day. (I had a friend cast a protection spell on it, which may have helped…but I also turned its collision-warning system to maximum sensitivity, because you can’t be too careful. :) )

  43. I’m very happy to read that you were uninjured in your early morning adventure. It sounds like you kept your cool. I can completely empathize with post-accident trauma. I’m still a little skittish when the roads are icy after more than one spinout on a single snowy weekend years ago.

  44. Well now, that’s … nerve-wracking.

    I think we’ve more or less gotten through both 2020 and 2021 now. I hope 2022 treats the Scalzi family well.

    Also the rest of us.

  45. I have only totalled a car once, and it was a holiday rental. Driving through the mountains in Greece when it started raining and the car just slid off the road and bounced off the armco and then into the side of the mountain on the other side of the road. Car was a mess, I was fine.

    I was thinking I was driving badly, then I got out of the car, and standing up on both feet in sneakers, I started sliding along the road because it was so slick that I couldn’t stand on it.

    Good job I was OK, because I had to wait for the road to dry out before the towtruck could get up the road I was on because the surface was so slick.

  46. Dear God. What a terrifying and miraculous experience. Congratulations on your cool head in the moment, and on coping with the aftershocks!

  47. I’m glad you weren’t hurt! It’s pretty amazing that cars can absorb that kind of impact these days.

    I remember getting T-boned at an intersection when I was in college. I was going very slowly (just starting through a 3-way stop) and the other car was going maybe 25-35 so it wasn’t terrible, and my car was drivable but did need a new front bumper, some body work and a couple of other things. Probably took 12-18 months before I could go through a 3-way or 4-way stop normally, I was either slowing down way early or being really REALLY certain nobody else would go before I went.

    Hopefully your anxiety does go away, and also hoping you don’t find any more large objects in the road while you’re driving!

  48. That sucks. Glad you and everyone else in incidents are ok. Was an EMT and hated accidents.

    My daughter (21) hist something in I40 in October. Nowhere near as bad as your accident but M still had to pull over to the side (night of course) and pull chunk of lumber out from front bumper area, pull car panel off wheel, etc.

  49. So glad to hear you’re alright, Athena. My mother died suddenly in an auto accident over a decade ago, so I’m always glad to hear when people are fine after a brush with danger behind the wheel.

  50. Sounds like you did all the right things in the right order. I was confused about the pulling over until I remembered you drive on the wrong side!

    Anyway, tell us more about the ugly sweaters!

  51. After that account I’m so glad you’re basically ok. May that, or anything like it, never happen to you again.

  52. Athena! That’s a terrifying story! Glad you came out of it OK.
    You say you got another car the next day, but not about what happened in the meantime. How’d you leave the scene? (Did the cops give you a ride?) How’d you find a place to stay overnight?

    A couple safety takeaways, and I say these with love:
    1) Never wander on foot onto a freeway, not even to help trapped people. Your chances of being hit and killed by another car are very high. Phone 911 and let the emergency responders handle that.
    2) When staying on the shoulder, stay as far away as possible from the road, and especially stay far away from your own car once you discover it’s not entirely out of the lane. Because the chances that it might be hit by another car and there’s another huge accident right in front of your face.

  53. 1) It’s good to hear that you’re alright, and even driving again.
    2) Thank you for sharing. Such disruptive events are not always the easiest things to talk about.
    3) As someone who was, at an age not much older than you are now, a passenger in an accident where the other occupants of the vehicle met their ends with impact trauma and drowning, respectively, I will simply echo the adage that any car accident you can walk away from is a good one.

  54. P.S.) For a bit of levity – my first thought on reading the post title was “It’s going to be deer… or possibly Mennonites.”

  55. Post-accident trauma is harrowing. Six years ago I was rear-ended at a stoplight by a 90-year-old man. He ploughed into the back of my Honda Element at 50mph with no brakes, totaling his car, mine, and my friend’s car that was in front of me.

    I kept reliving the accident for about 24 hours. It made me afraid to sleep. It was at least a week before I was able to drive again without a fight/flight response. It got better, and now I have a story to tell.

    Also, my bike was on the back of my car and it was destroyed. Then someone stole it off the tow truck.

  56. Modern safety feature crumple zones are the reason the car is totaled and the humans can say No thank you when offered hospital care.
    Also, any landing you can walk away from is a good one.
    Also, also, WOW, glad you’re okay.

  57. Your story gave me the push to do something I’ve been meaning to do for years–buy a window breaker/seat belt cutter for each of my vehicles.

  58. I am a former insurance claim representative. Should something similar ever happen to you, GET AWAY FROM THE HIGHWAY! Go out in the grass and stand by the fencing that is several yards away from the shoulder. Every year dozens of construction workers, police officers and the general public are struck and killed when standing near highways. This was especially dangerous being dark. If you couldn’t see the axle, it is doubtful passing motorists could see you. I handled several claims similar to this one where pedestrians were killed, including a mother and her two small children who pulled off simply because their car stalled and they stayed in the car.

    I understand you wanted to assist the stranded driver, but once it was apparent you could not do so you should have gotten far from the interstate. You may also want to get a safety kit for your next car that includes safety flares.


  59. Yikes. Glad you came out of it intact. Let’s hear it for modern auto-safety engineering.

    Do you have any feeling for how soon before you hit the axle (!!!) the ‘main’ accident occurred?

  60. Glad you’re okay. Much more active than any of the accidents I’ve been involved in.
    Speaking as a professional driver, good instincts on getting off the road. I’ve seen people stop in the traffic lane, which is dangerous as hell during daytime, never mind at night.
    And you don’t see truckers driving over things in the road if we can possibly avoid it. Some of the stuff out there will cause the same kind of damage to a semi as it does a car. Just a little less likely to get airborne, and more likely to tip over.

    Helping others is a great first thought, but unless they’re in the car with you, it’s more important to stay safe and do what you can to prevent more people from getting involved in the accident. Getting out flares, fire or electric, to warn others is the first thing we’re trained to do. Then call 911 and check on others. It sucks, but better than a 4th or 5th car getting involved.

    A window breaker is a great idea, either in your glove compartment or on a keychain. If you want to know why, Google “Mythbusters car underwater”. Content Warning, some of the videos are intense, even knowing how they come out.

  61. I know what you felt, years ago I was on the I-5 freeway northbound at 1am and the same exact thing happened to me. So frightening.
    I am so glad you were not injured.
    Ecstatic, really ❤

  62. Good grief, I thought my kids had exciting lives, but this is way too much for my nerves. So glad you are okay.

  63. I’m glad you are fine. You are such a good writer that your words sucked me right into the story to the end.

  64. Athena, thank goodness you were okay! You handled yourself amazingly well. Yes, certainly what others said, it’s best to stay out of the road, as you quickly realized. But it says a lot — all of it very, very good — that one of your first thoughts, after checking your own self and car, was the well being of the other people involved. You are an amazing young woman.

  65. we will be supplying with well-intentioned but inaccurate advise… so YMMV and simply say thanks and ignore us…
    be advised the hyper-alertness will fade but there is a genuine possibility of PTSD… the condition is triggered by various circumstances… in my case multiple instances of abuse as a child and repeated injury… in times of personal risk such as crime or fire or storms… in your case an unexpected moment of terror in an otherwise ordinary hour… time to arrange for counseling since backlog for pshrinks is in the months…
    as a favor to me (albeit an utter stranger) please track that DUI-MOFO and testify at his trial and get his license suspended for life… as in, if he ever drives again there’s the possibility he’ll end someone’s life… after I got hockey-pucked by a drunk, the cops refused to track the partial plate — too much work and as a pedestrian apparently I had it coming to me for crossing the street and I was not completely dead — so I never got to tell a jury about my crippling back injury…
    please… justice for all of those who never get to see a DUI-MOFO denied opportunity to drive again…

  66. {apologies if this comment has already been made and so glad you are okay!}

    We all have to get in the habit of not using the word “car accident” to describe things that are not accidents. They are crashes. Accident is a PR term put out by the car industry way back to divert attention from the fact that there are often causes for the crashes. A few are truly accidents, your part was an accident, but the thing that caused you to crash was not an accident. Neutral language like “car crash” helps us all start to think about why these things happen.

  67. I’m glad you’re well, Athena. I’ve had lots of accidents, all pretty minor, but never one as severe as what you just had! Seat belts and airbags are such huge life-savers, I’m glad all modern cars are equipped with them.

  68. What a way to return from your blogging hiatus! I’m sooooo glad you’re okay!

    Your comment about being more aware of road debris reminded me when I broke my foot, all of a sudden, my brain was doing DANGER DANGER DANGER when I was out walking, alerting me to every tin can or crumbled newspaper that I could possibly trip over. In my experience that overreaction does go away over time. Hopefully for you, too!

    P.S. Also, I wanted to know more about your ugly Christmas sweater. What did it look like? Was there a contest? What was the ugliest sweater there? Why am I the only person asking these important questions? :)

  69. I’m very glad you’re all right. That’s really scary. There are some really bad drivers out there and this could have been a lot worse. In some ways it was lucky it happened so late rather than during rush hour or the middle of the day when there would have been a lot more people on the road.

  70. I’m very glad you’re OK, and that everyone else involved is OK as well (though the impaired driver is going to be facing quite a bit of legal troubles in the immediate future). This time of year, it’s dark most of the time, the roads can be icy, and of course the drunks. Not, in that sense, the most wonderful time of the year.

  71. Glad you are okay and that everyone else was okay too. That is as good an outcome as you can reasonably ask for in a situation like that.

    Those airbags are violent aren’t they? I know they save lives, but wow.

    One thing to note if you ever find yourself on the side of the road again. The safest place to wait is in your car. Even if it is damaged you are a whole lot safer in your car than anywhere else. Unless it is on fire of course. Probably not applicable in this situation since the police stopped traffic, but just in case.

  72. I’ve been catching up on my blog reading after the holidays and this was a strange coincidence…. I was in what mid-westerners would probably call a mud room, but I call my airlock (‘cuz nerd) between my kitchen and garage when I heard a giant bang, loud enough I thought someone had decided to ram my garage door.

    I ran outside and saw F350 upon F350 violence (rear-ending, specifically), with one ending up on my lawn. No injuries, thankfully. Given the geography, I’m guessing the rear-ender wasn’t paying attention — the rear-endee had stopped because of deer crossing the road, but there’s at least a half mile of uninterrupted sight line, so….

    Anyway, less than an hour after I came back inside, I read your story. Weird.

    Glad you and (apparently) everyone else is okay.

  73. I just want to say… immediately after an incredibly terrifying experience, you were willing to put yourself in an life threatening situation to check on another person, then made sure the police were aware that someone else was trapped so they could prioritize getting them safe.

    Well done.

  74. Just wanted to chip in and say that I was in a car accident that totalled my car a couple of years ago and was super jumpy for a while afterwards, but that I’m definitely fully recovered (I wouldn’t have remembered that at all except that you mentioned going through the same thing).

    And I have an anxiety disorder, so I’m vulnerable to being anxious about stuff. All of which is to say that the jumpiness is very likely to wear off for you too.

    Thanks for the cool write-up. I’m so glad no one was hurt.

  75. Athena, you don’t seem to realize what a quietly heroic role you played in this!

    YOU were the one who called the cops’ attention to the other car, dark and hard to see in the middle of the highway, with its occupants trapped and helpless. Without you, the accident could easily have involved more cars and more casualties. I know your parents are massively proud of you already, but they should be practically glowing with joy at what you did.

    You were shaken up after a crash, and yet the first thing you did was see if others needed help, and got it for them.

    You are a hero. I hope your dad has already set you up in a really fabulous new car. You deserve a medal as well.

  76. For Justin, five posts above, I too refer to things as airlocks. Here on the Great Plains, except for bungalows and tiny stores, every building has an airlock to keep people from being freeze-dried by incoming air. And the windows are double paned to keep meteorites from penetrating.

    For everyone, please don’t “distract and drive.” Leave your device where you won’t be tempted. I was at a stop light, with ten cars in front of me and ten behind me. All that inert metal should have kept me safe, right?

    But after the light turned green, the distracted driver behind me stomped on the gas. I was stationary, foot by the gas pedal. Luckily, my headrest was properly adjusted. Unluckily, I had my jaw out of line sucking candy. I will never again have the same feeling in both jaws.

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