I was in a car accident last week.
It wasn’t in Colombia, where every bus ride made me cling to the seat in fear. It wasn’t in Vietnam where I once passed a car accident with covered corpses lying by the side of the road. It wasn’t even in China where taxis careened through the streets like they had a death wish.
Nope, it was on my way home from the airport, in Seattle. Actually technically still at the airport, we only made it about 30 seconds from the curb.
The three of us (Mike, Leo and I) were returning from a weeklong trip to visit my in-laws for the holidays. It was our first time traveling with the dog and it hadn’t really gone as smoothly as we hoped (I’ll be writing about this later). After a week of long drives, veterinary hospital visits and rough flights, we were very happy to be home.
We hailed a Lyft and piled ourselves in. Mike and I saw on either side of the back seat with Leo in his soft crate between us. It was maybe 10 pm. Exhausted, I almost forgot to buckle my seatbelt, but then I remembered a semi-serious lecture we’d given Mike’s 17-year old brother the day before on the importance of always buckling up.
Man, am I glad I did. As the car pulled away from the curb I leaned back and remarked to Mike “we’re almost home.” Seriously, that is what I said just half a second before another car slammed into our backside.
Honestly, the details are a bit blurry- it happened really fast. From what Mike and I pieced together, this is what happened:
The exit bridge from the departures area at SEATAC splits in two- on lane goes towards the parking garage, the other towards the exit. The car in front of us couldn’t decide which way it wanted to go, so our Lyft driver slowed to a stop waiting for him to make a decision. We were completely still when a yellow taxi hit us from behind at probably 20 mph.
The impact was strong and violent. Leo’s carrier bounced around before I thought to grab it. We were pushed forward at least 20 feet before our driver was able to gain control. It felt like a really long time.
I’ve never been in a car accident before, and it was interesting to see how both Mike and I reacted. I was still trying to register what happened, but Mike quickly checked if Leo and I were alright then sprinted off to the taxi to check on the passengers there. He called 911, spoke to the police, everything, while Leo and I stood by the overpass and shivered. Cops came. Firetrucks came.
The biggest takeaway from the entire experience is: thank goodness we were wearing seatbelts. We were (mostly) fine. Leo and I were untouched. The driver seemed okay (although pretty unhappy). Mike’s side of the car had the greater impact and he ended up with a minor concussion and sore knees.
The passenger in the other taxi wasn’t so lucky- he left on a stretcher in an ambulance. He also wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
We just stood in the rain for awhile, talked to the police, and ended up catching a ride in a firetruck back to the arrivals area (the extreme cuteness of the fireman went a tiny way towards making up for the massive 3 hour inconvenience of the thing).
As we once again piled into a taxi and tried to make our way home (“please drive carefully,” Mike pleaded to the drive), the fireman’s parting words rang in my head. “It could have been a lot worse. That bridge had a 40 foot drop off on either side.”
I still don’t really like to think about that, but I know it’s true. It could have been immensely worse. Not to be melodramatic but we could be dead and instead we were just shaken up. Most of that was sheer luck, but at least one big part of it was under our control: the seatbelt. If we hadn’t been wearing them, I don’t think we would have left on our own.
In the following days we were pretty shaken up, and a couple weeks later I still feel weird getting into cars. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about this as all since it’s pretty personal and not really something to milk for clicks, but I do think it’s important. We’re celebrating Christmas as a family of 3 this year, and I’m thankful we’re all able to do it while healthy and happy.
So let this be a reminder to you: always wear your seatbelt! Even in Ubers. Even in taxis. I know seatbelts aren’t always possible in other countries. I actually had a Chinese taxi driver yell at me for trying to put one on once (still don’t know why). But if you’ve got one, use it. Because you really have no idea when you’re going to need it.