January 1999

A few weeks ago, while I was driving a minivan-load of my friends home from an innocent (as in school-related) holiday party, I experienced one of the most terrifying occurrences I ever thought possible.

We were cruising along Via de la Valle – at only about 30 mph due to the potholes – when a man appeared inches in front of my car.  I instinctively slammed on the brakes until he’d finished darting across the street and, not thinking to honk, I continued driving.

My friend who was sitting shotgun immediately began crying, and didn’t stop until about fourth period the next day.  The two other girls in the car did their best to comfort her, but failed miserably.  One of the guys in the back seat accused me of being a bad driver; the other one demanded to know what the big deal was.

I was in shock.  I wanted to cry, but I could barely even breathe.  The possibilities of all the things that could have happened flashed through my mind: we could’ve hit and killed the guy, and no one would have believed that I wasn’t at fault.  I could’ve swerved into a cliff, or better yet, into oncoming traffic.  If the driver behind us had been speeding, or not paying attention when I stopped so suddenly, we could’ve been smashed into from behind.  Seven people could have died.

When I finally got home that night, I burst into tears because I was so relieved that we were safe.  I was so thankful that I was paying attention to the road as opposed to the radio dials or the other people in the car.  I realized that, contrary to what one of my passengers had said, I really am a pretty conscientious driver.

Nonetheless, a split-second difference could’ve landed me in any of the above situations.  Even the safest driver can’t avoid some things, thanks to the carelessness of others.  It’s scary to think that, no matter how by-the-book one’s driving skills may be, there’s always the possibility of something terrible happening.

At least I learned a few things from the experience.  I now refuse to divert my attention from the road when driving.  I make sure to focus on being careful while I drive, rather than on having fun.  And, of course, I try to avoid passengers who may insult my driving skills.

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