Friday, February 13, 2009

Car Crash!

3 February 2009:
I woke up late that morning. I had been having problems sleeping, since I was getting over a cold. Stacy thought that I was taking Tuesday off as well. Since I was feeling much better that day, I was ready to go to work. But it was too late for me to catch my train, and if I took the next train, I wouldn't get into work until about 11:15.

Since the kids were all home sick (all four of them), and I needed to escape the house of virus, I took the car to go to work. Taking the car to work is a pretty rare event, and can turn a 1:15 commute into a 39 minute commute. I only get to do it once or twice a month.

I was headed north on one of the final roads to get the office. Thoughts were going through my mind of the huge amount of work I have ahead of me. I have a large deployment of software, and some pretty tricky work that lies immediately ahead of me.

Suddenly, the car is at a complete stop. The airbag is deployed. The car is turned 120 degrees to the right of the direction I was previously going. There is a smelly, smoky dust floating in the air. The radio was off. The hazard lights were on, clicking away. "Sh%$. I must have been in an accident!"

I had no notice that the crash was going to happen. I had no idea the car was going to impact. I had no idea the car had been destroyed. I was driving along, minding my own business, a clear road in front of me, and then I was in a wrecked car. It is amazing how quickly it all happened. There was no slow motion "OH NO WE ARE GOING TO CRASH" No screeching tires, no dramatic music, no anticipation at all. Just driving, and crash.

I get out of the car, probably faster than I should have. In retrospect, I didn't even look for other traffic. If they too weren't paying attention, I would have been a pedestrian smear on their bumper. I see what must obviously have been the other car, a fair distance away, and go to check on him.

As I walk to his car, I look at the intersection again. My initial reaction was that the accident MUST have been fault, since I am a foreigner, and often am confused by the rules of the traffic here. I looked over to the big white triangle painted on his side of the road, and confirm that I, indeed had right of way.

I'm the first person to the other driver's car as he opens the door. He seems to be all right. His face isn't wedged in the windshield or anything, and I don't see any blood. He gets out of the car without any need of assistance. I ask him if he's OK, in English (I seem to have forgotten German at that moment). He responds that he's OK.

Me? No pain so far. I do notice that my knee feels like I fell and scraped it. It doesn't hurt, though. By now bystanders are showing up to see if everybody is OK. The old guy driving the Mercedes, gets out of his car, and speaks Swiss German to me. I don't really know what he is saying; it wasn't Bernese German, but some other dialect of Swiss German that I don't know at all. The bystanders who rushed to the scene to aid us all spoke French. Maybe it was a mild case of lingual aphasia on my part.

One helpful bystander, who was driving a motorcycle behind me before the accident (and saw the whole thing) spoke both German and French. He was awesome. He translated everything for me into German, and directed traffic, from all the other cars that were starting to get stuck at the intersection, not knowing what to do. The smoldering twisted hulk that was once my car was in the dead center of the intersection, immobile. The new traffic is routed around the broken glass and twisted metal.

The old guy had a pretty deep cut on his right hand, and he goes with one of the bystanders to the hospital. He opens the trunk to get his walking stick, and they are gone. People ask me over and over again, "Are you hurt?" No, don't think so. My knee is a little scraped, but not much else. "No neck pain?" Nope.

I call the wife promptly. "I'm OK. The car is destroyed."

I instant-message my co-worker, Chris, and tell him to come over and see the car wreck. He is an avid photographer, and loves to photograph cool stuff, I am sure that car crashes would also qualify as stuff he likes to shoot.

The police show up. None of them speak German, they are all Francophones. The first officers show up to direct traffic, more show up to take pictures, measure distances, make chalk markings on the pavement, scribble details in their notepads. One officer shows up to me and asks me if I have any injuries.
He has a brethalyzer in hand. "It's protocol to measure all drivers involved in an accident for blood alcohol content" I blow. It's a zero point zero (as was expected). Chris had the presence of mind to snap a shot of the event. It made a pretty funny picture.

I had to retrieve all of the documents out of the car, the license, registration, the GPS, anything I could stuff into my backpack.

The traffic cop who does speak English and German shows up. He tells me that he prefers German, so I go along in German. He drives me back to the police station, where I give my statement.

This was an odd experience unlike any I have had before. The office was a small room with just enough room for a desk with a computer, and my chair on the other side. I had to present all of my documents. My Ausländerausweis (Foreigner's permit), my passport, my drivers license, my title of the car, my proof of car insurance.

We described the events of the accident, as he wrote all of the happenings for me. The final document was half in French, half in German. The first part of the document was in French, the basic information, like the names of those involved, the location, the time, the types of cars, etc. The part where we described the accident was in German. I can't imagine a document in America as being in two languages, but this is Switzerland, and things are different, I guess.

Here's a map of the accident.

View Larger Map

I am coming from the south, heading north on Route de Chandolan. You can see the cross-street, Route de Petit Moncor, where the other guy was coming from the west, headed East. If you look closely at the satellite photo, you can see the white triangle painted on the road. In America, this would be a stop sign, but here, it is simply a "give-way", meaning, you have to yield to the oncoming traffic. There is no need to stop if there is no traffic. His view up the street probably couldn't see me so well, as the sun was behind me, and the street was wet. When looking back up the street, the sun and the wet road lined up just well enough to shine very brightly.

I have gone down this road a few times more, and my view of the oncoming traffic from the left is very limited. Limited both by the car wash, on the southwest corner of this inter section, along with lots of parked cars, and snow banks piled up high, preventing a view of the oncoming traffic from the left. In addition, every car has this blind spot just in front and to the left of the driver, where the frame of the left side of the window blocks a small part of the view of the driver. These issues combined are probably why I never saw this guy coming.

Here's my pictures (with comments) on Facebook:

Here's some more pictures:
From Blogger Pictures

From Blogger Pictures


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