A Letter To The Officer Who Made Me Drive Into A Ditch

(If you haven’t seen the pic­ture.)

Maybe we have a few things in com­mon. We were both dri­ving back to the office at the end of the day (me to drop off the cas­es I had picked up, you to do more paper­work). Both five years at our jobs. Both with­out pri­or acci­dents. But I’m actu­al­ly in mar­ket­ing, not deliv­ery, and if it was­n’t for the fact that our so many of our dri­vers had called in sick, I would­n’t have been on the road at this par­tic­u­lar time on this par­tic­u­lar day.

It was actu­al­ly a few fac­tors that led to my dri­ving into the dirt shoul­der, and even­tu­al­ly, set­tling in a ditch fac­ing the wrong way in the grassy medi­an. You drove from the onramp direct­ly into the pass­ing lane — where I was — with­out check­ing your blind spot. Or sig­nal­ing. I did­n’t real­ize you were com­ing into my lane and about to hit me until it was too late. I did­n’t have time to brake, so I had to dri­ve half onto the shoul­der. As I steered back onto the cement road, it caused a dif­fer­ence in trac­tion between my left and right tires. It made me veer left, and I tried to cor­rect it by steer­ing right. Then the same thing hap­pened in the oppo­site direc­tion.

From my days years of play­ing Grand Theft Auto, I learned to turn in the direc­tion of the skid to regain trac­tion. Except that’s when you’re in a tail­spin, not a side spin. It’s also a lit­tle dif­fer­ent when it’s a com­pact car in your hands, instead of a sports car on the screen. Not that it would have mat­tered; by the time I real­ized that I was spin­ning out of con­trol, I did­n’t have time to think.

It was a fair­ly nice day out. Cloudy with few scat­tered show­ers, but that means I don’t have to crank the A/C (which drowns out my music) and I don’t have to squint. In fact, it was prob­a­bly the rain ear­li­er that day which caused the soil to loosen up; oth­er­wise, the car may have flipped at the speed I was going. Otherwise, the pave­ment was dry, which is why I was­n’t expect­ing to skid. Maybe if it was my own car, I would have known how to han­dle it bet­ter.

There was no impact. No thud. Just a screech from half my tires locked and slid­ing, end­ing with me it the ditch. I emerged from the vehi­cle shak­ing slight­ly, won­der­ing how I did­n’t hit any oth­er cars dur­ing rush hour. I looked back and saw that you had stopped on the shoul­der too; I guess you did see me (albeit a lit­tle too late), oth­er­wise, you would have kept dri­ving.

The tow truck dri­ver, look­ing rough and provin­cial, came out of his cab and asked me right away if I was alright. He got my car out of the ditch, and was a gen­tle­man through and through.

I found it strange that I had to pay the tow­ing fee when it was in no way my fault, but per­haps each per­son in an acci­dent is respon­si­ble for their own tow­ing. I had nev­er been in an acci­dent before; I would­n’t know. I did­n’t ques­tion it because I did­n’t feel like argu­ing with a cop at the time. Besides, the com­pa­ny would prob­a­bly reim­burse me for it. You did get me a dis­count through the police, and the tow­ing com­pa­ny low­ered their rate from $175 to $50.

To be hon­est, I’d prob­a­bly be more angry if it was my own car, instead of a com­pa­ny car. Or if I had to pay for the tow­ing out of my own pock­et. Or if I hit anoth­er car dur­ing my spin. Or if I was injured in some way. Or if you blamed the acci­dent on me.

But you seem to be beat­ing your­self up about it more than I am. And whether it’s because the inci­dent is going on your per­ma­nent record is irrel­e­vant. I kept try­ing to tell you that shit hap­pens, things like this hap­pen to the best of us, but you seemed to have a hard time let­ting it go. To me, the impor­tant thing is that you apol­o­gized, when you could have blamed me, and the oth­er offi­cers would prob­a­bly have believed you.

I can under­stand why you called your sergeant, and why you want­ed to do it by the book. Having been fresh­ly trans­ferred from a small neigh­bour­ing city, with only a few months on the local force, it makes sense to cov­er your ass.

Even my best friend, who’s a lawyer and deals with the police quite fre­quent­ly, told me that he was sur­prised at how coop­er­a­tive you were. Maybe you’re still green, less griz­zled, not pes­simistic, but I hope it’s not just a case of being fresh on the force. I hope any­one review­ing your file will keep in mind that we’re all human, that we make mis­takes from time to time, and that hon­esty and integri­ty count for a lot more than our occa­sion­al slip-ups.

When you shook my hand and addressed me by my name to apol­o­gize again, before putting an inter­cep­tor in the left lane to clear the way for me to merge onto the high­way, it was much appre­ci­at­ed.

Hey, your sergeant let me sit in the back of a squad car. “It’s air con­di­tioned”, he offered, and I could­n’t resist. Partially so I could see what it’s like (it’s cramped back there!), and par­tial­ly to check out all the cool gear he had in the front. He also got the charges reversed on my cred­it card for the tow­ing, and billed it to your depart­ment instead. Sure, it may have been a has­sle to have to dri­ve to the tow­ing com­pa­ny to get the receipt for my refund after all this when I real­ly did­n’t feel like dri­ving any­more (and have to pass by the place of the acci­dent), but I would­n’t have seen the tow­ing guy a sec­ond time and been able to thank him again.

No harm was done on my end. There no effect on my insur­ance. Not even any cos­met­ic dam­age to the vehi­cle, and hope­ful­ly noth­ing done to the wheel align­ment or under the hood. It gave me some valu­able expe­ri­ence: how to make a state­ment, what’s involved in a motor vehi­cle acci­dent report, what details to recall and remem­ber. I think we both learned a lot that day, and if no one gets hurt in the process, that’s fine by me.


  1. Getting a super­vi­sor to the scene of an offi­cer-involved traf­fic col­li­sion is stan­dard oper­at­ing pro­ce­dure, at least with most munic­i­pal­i­ties I’ve dealt with.

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