home |  

An Experiment with Cars

I was an unwilling and unexpected participant in an experiment this past June. Another employee of Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation tried to further his space-perception-technical training and study by evaluating how two automobiles could occupy the same space at the same point in time. The results were a dismal failure. Whether this was due to poor experimental protocol or abject stupidity is a matter of conjecture. I vote on the side of intellectual poverty; the experimenter's, of course, not mine. I was already entering the parking space at the time and thus claimed ownership by percentage. The procedure worked this way:

I, the experimented upon, entered the Gulfstream parking lot early the morning of June 27th, 2000. The weather was clear in the post dawn, visibility was unlimited, and the pavement was dry. The temperature was around 75 degrees F. My lights were not on as it was too light to make any difference. Behind me another employee was driving. The parking lot was not crowded. I like to park in the very last row farthest from the employee gate for a few reasons. One, it gives me some good exercise to walk the quarter of a mile distance to my office; two, there are always plenty of spaces available, as a large portion of employees like to drive around for fifteen minutes or so through the first few rows looking for that valuable commodity: the close parking space. I find that parking further away and walking the longer distance gets me to the gate faster than those who remain so reluctant to punish their bodies by walking the few extra steps. Besides, by waiting in their cars for someone to pull out they can keep their engines running longer, pumping more hydrocarbons into the atmosphere, as well as giving them the opportunity to refresh their respiratory systems with a couple more cigarettes. I walk by them sitting there in their vehicles and chuckle, keeping the irony to myself. And third, if I back into the very last row of the parking lot the row of trees right behind me keeps the morning sun off my car just that much longer. The heat produced in an enclosed vehicle on a typical southern day could cook a small chicken.

So that's what I did on the morning in question. I usually back-in for quicker getaways in the afternoon. And if while making that back-in maneuver there is someone behind me it slows them down, forcing them to stop while I carefully slide into the space, usually between two other cars, or more accurately, in this southern society, between two monster trucks, some actually without gun racks. So on this morning, in order not to get in the way of the driver behind me, what I did was to pull into a space directly opposite my intended space. After he passed by I put the transmission in reverse and slowly backed up into the empty spot, looking over my right shoulder while piloting between two other vehicles. I was almost half way into the space when the sudden and horrible sound of the gnashing of metal and glass shattered the calm morning air. I cried out, "No, no, no ,no," repeatedly in horror that I had somehow miss-judged the distance between my car and one on my left. A rush of adrenaline kicked in and a sense of shock enveloped me. I couldn't believe that my ten year old Chevrolet Cavalier would now be so horribly disfigured, not to mention the damage I caused to someone else's car. I had taken such good care of it ever since I purchased it brand new in 1990, never getting into any accident with it. In fact, one of Melissa's friends had bestowed the back-handed compliment on it by referring to it as a "mobile museum." I appreciated the compliment as I try to keep all my vehicles in top running order, getting the most out of them that I possibly can. There was only the barest of a spot of rust showing on the bottom of both doors, thanks to many Michigan winters and the dreaded practice in the North of heavily salting the roads at the slightest threat of snow. Unfortunately salt thrives on metal. But on the outside of my car the stains of rust were not too prominent; it was when the doors were opened that the real rust damage was visible. So the car really looked good on the outside and in the meticulously kept interior. It was, in my opinion, a good looking white Cavalier with navy blue interior. It had about ninety-five thousand miles on it and had been paid off for six years. I planned on driving it until it was no longer willing to move. And that certainly was intended to be past June 27, 2000!

One more point to be made was that since the car was so old it really wasn't cost effective to pay collision insurance on it. While the vehicle was valuable to me, to an insurance company it held considerably less value. So realizing the sound of metal on metal I just heard meant I would not be able to get the car fixed and would have to publicly drive a vehicle that looked very much unlike one that fit my image of a careful caretaker of material possessions, I was physically sickened at the thought.

Upon hearing the sound described above I came to an immediate stop. I looked to my left to see what damage I had done to the car I was pulling in next to only to discover another car slammed up against my door and side view mirror at a right angle as if it was an ugly cancerous growth waiting for a doctor's extraction! Some moron had actually backed into me while I was pulling into this parking space! The driver pulled away from my door and I inched further out of the spot I was in so I could open my door and not hit the car I was parking next to, and got out to evaluate the damage. It occurred to me with a high degree of certainty that two vehicle could not occupy the same space at the same time. Not in this universe.

The damage was not as bad as I has feared and suspected. My side view mirror was pushed up at an unnatural angle though most of the glass in it was still affixed to the holder, though badly cracked. The door panel was crushed in what looked like waves, though not too deep, and even the paint was not too badly scratched. I looked over at the car that hit me as its driver got out full of apologies for not seeing me, and his car, a rented year 2000 Ford Taurus was barely damaged. His left rear tail light lens was broken and the plastic bumper had a five inch indentation in it much as if a softball had been stuck in it and was now dislodged. He was moving slowly enough that great damage was minimized. Still I knew that it would cost a great deal of money to get this fixed, and me without collision insurance! Georgia is not a no-fault insurance state and I just knew I'd never see a penny from his insurance company. All these things swirled around in my mind as the chemicals of shock and fury still controlled my body.

This other Gulfstream employee was visibly dismayed as well. He apologized saying he just didn't see me, didn't know how this had happened, and fortunately he was not belligerent about the whole thing in trying to shift the blame to me. We exchanged the necessary information deciding that since the incident occurred on Gulfstream property it didn't warrant having the police come out forcing us to wait the half-hour or more it would take for their arrival. Knowing we'd be in touch he returned to his can and I completed my parking. As soon as I got to my desk I would call my insurance company and see what they could do to help me get satisfaction.

The second rude awakening would greet me when my insurance company basically told me that, since I wasn't covered for collision, there was nothing they could do for me in any way, shape, or form. I was on my own to deal with the other guy's insurance company. And when I called them, I was encouraged to hear that they would be able to get the damage repaired expeditiously and would be furnished a rental car at their expense for the duration mine was out of commission. Well, this was what I was hoping for! I hung up a little less distressed and just waited for the formality of estimates and authorization. The company that the insurance company used to get estimates was close by and a day later I drove over there. The car drove fine, there was no difference after the accident from before except for those cosmetic items defined above.

larger image of photo 56kbIt seemed to me, to minimize repair costs and time, the most efficient way to handle repairs was just to replace the door rather than expend time and labor to smooth out the metal skin of the door and repaint. However it was explained to me that complete doors on the market were pretty expensive and hard to find. The girl submitting the estimate took pictures and wrote up her repair figures. She gave me a copy stating that it would be a short time before the insurance company got back to me, but that they didn't have available time for a few weeks to make the repairs. I had considered taking the car to a place of my own choosing, but after looking at this facility, which was virtually brand new and looked impressive, I decided they could do the work. I was not concerned about the time element since the car was just as drivable now as it was before, and I returned to work full of confidence.

larger image of photo 47kbThe third rude awakening occurred after a few days of trying to find out about the approval for the repairs. While I realized that the cost would be high to make repairs I was still kind of shocked at just how high: over $850.00! That should have been my first and last clue that the insurance company would not follow through on their implication that I would be satisfied with this claim. And indeed that was exactly the case. After not returning my phone calls, calls made to a couple of different agents and a supervisor, I was handed the official pronouncement: "Both you and our insured were backing making you equally at negligent (sic). Please file with your claim (sic) with your own insurance company." They stated that "there are often differences of opinion surrounding the cause of an accident. However, our investigation indicates your negligence exceeds that of our insured under Georgia comparative negligence rules." In other words, while the other guy was apologetic to me, he was lying through his teeth to his insurance company about the events as they transpired. It would be a "his word against mine" deal. There was no winning that war, especially against an entity such as an insurance company that employs proficient lawyers trained in shifting blame so a payoff doesn't materialize.

My only consolation, as I word a letter of protest surely destined to disappear into the black hole of bureaucracy, the damage is not as bad as it could have been. If I can find a side view mirror I can install myself I can live with the remaining damage, which looks like a not-too-noticeable slight wave in the sheet metal as you can see here. And life in a driver challenged South continues.

As a postlude, I should describe an event that occurred just a few weeks after this accident. Before this time I had not been in an accident for over ten years; in fact, I can't recall the last time I was in an accident. So one morning after the above described event, I was driving on President Street on the way to work, a divided highway with two lanes in each direction which is heavily traveled at the seven o'clock hour of the morning commute. In front of me was a white Volkswagen, one of the sporty new models. In back of me was another white Chevy Cavalier only a few years older than mine and in a state of considerably greater disrepair and abuse, driven by someone I thought looked like he should more appropriately be prohibited from driving an off road farm vehicle than occupying the driver's seat of a car. When the Volkswagen in front stopped suddenly I hit my brakes hard and came to a stop a couple feet from the car's rear bumper. And I immediately looked in my rear view mirror to check on the stopping progress of the derelict behind me. I was dismayed to discover that the speed with which the vehicle was travelling was most certainly not going be adequately diminished in the small remaining distance of separation. And as expected, as I involuntarily closed my eyes bracing for impact, I was slammed from behind and rudely pushed into the brand new Volkswagen. Not only did I not want to get in another accident, I did not want to be the cause of bringing rush hour traffic to a standstill with irate drivers and onlookers freely expressing their rage as they slowly made their way around us.

The short story is that, after we all exited our vehicles, there was no real damage to be seen. The already wreck of a car in back of me had no detectable damage or scratches. My car's rear bumper looked unscathed as did my front bumper, though I did later find the grill had slightly cracked and a small piece was missing. And the Volkswagen in front was ok too, though there was the smallest piece of black mark on the bumper. Considering the size of the impact, and it was great, the bumpers really did their job perfectly and all seemed to be well. But the young woman owning the Volkswagen was prepared to make a mountain out of a minor scratch. I was completely prepared to get back into my car and resume our commute as was the driver behind me, but this girl was on her cell phone to her mother for advice! Her mother! The advice given, of course, offered by someone who had not even the faintest idea of the situation, was to call the police, and make a report. Sure! Let's tie up traffic for another hour while we fret about something a few molecules of white paint would completely repair. But I said, sure, if you wanted to do that we could, but there was no damage anywhere on any of the cars, and the better course of action would be to just leave, no harm, no foul. Well, she talked again to her mother and then proceeded to put me on the phone with the woman! This was unique! The mother proceeded to attempt to convince me that the police should be called, etc., etc. Without saying a word I returned the phone to the girl stating there was no reason for me to enter into conversation with her mother. After more minutes while information was exchanged and she tried to formulate a decision, a police car pulled up behind us, now we were a stationary caravan of four white cars!

Fortunately the officer was of the reasonable variety, and he asked if we wanted to make out a report; if we did another car could be there momentarily. I wasn't about to prolong our stay in the left lane of this now clogged artery by asking why another officer needed to take the report and not him, but I wasn't about to get entangled in bizarre explanations which could only be disastrous for me--I couldn't find my proof of insurance! Certainly it would cost me a hefty fine and maybe points if that fact surfaced, not to mention increased insurance rates. Two drivers told the officer it was believed no report was warranted and we'd just as soon leave the premises, while the third driver pondered her options. Finally, miraculously, the girl agreed with us. I believe she was the only person to actually keep the insurance information of the drivers involved. But we all returned to our vehicles and drove off into the morning trying to return to some semblance of calm and peace. I fully plan on having that be the last incident involving driving for the rest of my life and the life of this white, slightly wrinkled car. Always remember to keep an appropriate distance between you and the car in front of you!

home |