Pump The Brakes On That Panic Attack

, , , , | Friendly | September 10, 2020

While in college, my boyfriend undergoes a bone biopsy and will need to recover at home for a few days. Not having a car of my own, I borrow his so I can visit him until he can return to class. What none of us realize is that his car has been slowly leaking brake fluid and today is the day that breaks the camel’s back.

After leaving his house the first day he’s home, I’m driving down the middle lane of a three-lane highway and start to approach a red light. I put my foot on the brake and while the car slows, it refuses to stop. I only have about fifty feet before I will hit a car stopped in front of me at the light. I’m completely panicked, slamming the brake with both feet, trying desperately to stop the car. Being in the middle lane, I can’t pull over and the only other car I’ve ever driven had a pedal emergency brake. This car has a hand e-brake which I don’t know exists at the time.

With only about fifteen feet to go, the car has coasted to about ten or fifteen mph but I know I’m still going to hit the car in front of me.

In a last-ditch effort, I throw the car into park and the car emits a horrendous noise, as you would expect, but I still rear-end the car stopped in front of me, a small SUV. I don’t hit him hard enough to deploy the airbag but hard enough to bring me to an abrupt halt. 

As I was able to see this accident coming, combined with the fear of driving down the highway without brakes, adrenaline has been pouring into my system. I’ve now caused an accident in a car that isn’t mine and that I’m not registered to drive, and I have an out-of-state driver’s license. In our college town, police are notoriously unforgiving of out-of-state college drivers and I’m convinced I’m in loads of trouble. I’m having an absolute, sobbing meltdown in the driver’s seat.

The driver from the car in front of me gets out, takes a brief look at the damage to our cars, and approaches my window. I roll it down and immediately begin rapid-fire apologizing while sobbing. 

Me: “I’m so sorry! My brakes went out and I couldn’t stop and I didn’t mean to hit you and I hope you’re okay and I’m so sorry and I couldn’t stop and I didn’t know what to do and I couldn’t stop and—”

Other Driver: *Very concerned* “Are you okay?”

Me: “I didn’t mean to hit you, but I couldn’t stop and I was so scared and I’m so sorry and my brakes wouldn’t work—”

Other Driver: *Still patient and concerned* “Are you okay?”

Me: “I’m really sorry and—”

Other Driver: *In a very casual tone* “I think you broke a headlight.”

Me: “It’s my boyfriend’s car and he just got out of surgery and the brakes wouldn’t work—”

Other Driver: *Somewhat forcefully* “STOP.”

I fall silent.

Other Driver: *Very calmly* “Are you okay?”

Me: “I’m not hurt.”

At this point, a police officer has arrived and starts to tell me I need to move my car. I’m completely flummoxed because the brakes don’t work and I try telling him this. He keeps insisting I move the car because we’re holding up traffic. The other driver chimes in that I can probably move the car no problem, but if the officer wants me to stop at some point, we’re going to have an issue.

In the midst of all of this, I’ve managed to call my boyfriend who, even though he’s recovering from a very painful procedure, manages to get a ride to the accident scene which is only about ten minutes from his house. He explains that the car has a hand brake and the friend who drove him moves the car to a nearby gas station. The other driver follows us all so we can continue talking to the officer.

At this point, the officer has never asked me for my license, proof of insurance, or anything. He addresses the other driver.

Officer: “Do you want to file an accident report or have us pursue this any farther?”

Other Driver: “Nah. My car is fine. I do more damage than that putting my bike in the trunk. And it’s not like it was really her fault. I’m okay calling it a day if you are.”

Officer: “Sounds good. Have a good day, everyone.”

I never got that other driver’s name but I will always be grateful for how kind and understanding he was. He could have made my day so much worse and it would have been totally justified. Thank you, driver, wherever you are!

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