The fragile fabric

Driving back to Albany from Santa Rosa on Sunday I witnessed a pretty gnarly car crash.

Basically- I noticed this aggressive driver in a black Passat with frat letters on the back when they passed me on the right. Drifting around in the lane, uneven acceleration. Decided to give them wide berth. As I followed directly behind them in the left lane, but with 2-300 yards distance I saw them brake suddenly, realized they had failed to slow down with traffic. They then swerved sharply into the right lane, where there was some space. It was a misty day, with moisture on the road but no standing water. The driver then lost control of the car, skidding side to side, then sliding into the embankment on the side of the road, probably at 50+ mph. The car rolled onto the roof. I pulled into the median and crossed the road, helped the driver out of the car through the rear driver side window. The driver’s side front corner of the car was crushed worst, although the airbags didn’t deploy, the driver was lucky not to get more hurt.



After a couple minutes I realized the engine was still running, despite having lost all the oil, and being upside-down (obviously). I reached through the drivers window and steering wheel and moved the key out of the ignition position. The radio kept playing. Couldn’t shut the key off and remove it as the transmission was not in park. Before I shut it off the engine sounded like a diesel, and was beginning to smoke. It had lost all the oil when it first hit the embankment- the oil pan was shattered.


I found it a bit impressive how well the car held up, for the safety of the driver and running upside down with no oil for a good little while.


Despite having seen it unfold right in front of me I’m still not exactly sure what happened here. It was pretty shocking, unreal. Puts into perspective how the way we use cars and roads can quickly, in just an instant go from the disconnected, comfortable, predictable way we are familiar with into a real display of heavy objects in motion, subject to all the misunderstood, unprepared-for physical realities that aren’t a part of the road culture. Racing LeMons, even autocross is also a good way to get in touch with the car as a physical system- find the limits where surface predictability disappears. And cheaper and safer than flipping your car on the highway.

No one was badly hurt, only one car was totaled, but not only our distracted driver friend got a bit of a reality check seeing this crazy scene unfold.

Posted on December 21, 2009 at 11:57 pm by Henry · Permalink
In: Cars, Life and Times

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