I killed a dog last night.
I was driving north on US Route 1. Route 1 is quite built-up, but I was not in one of the well-lit areas. I was almost the only one on the road, most folks were still inside with the Super Bowl. About half a mile from my house, I glimpsed, for the barest fraction of a second, the glow of two yellow eyes reflecting my headlights, and then something exploded in my face, and I couldn't breathe.
The driver-side airbag was in my face. The passenger-side airbag had also gone off. The car was filled with acrid, sulphurous smoke, and I couldn't stop coughing. I was still going about 45 mph, and I was having a hard time seeing through the smoke to steer. I remembered that deaths in the US from car-deer collisions are common. Had I hit a deer? Was I about to die? Was this how it happened? I could barely see, I could barely control the car. I was trying to steer, my arms around the huge airbag. My main thought was to get the hell off the road and stop the car. The car is a coupe, and the two side windows are powered. I triggered them both. The smoke cleared a little, but I still could not stop coughing.
My next thought was: Did I hit a person?
Every few years you see a story in the newspaper about an elderly driver who hits and kills someone standing or walking by the road. The driver continues on, goes home, and never tells anyone. When the police finally trace the accident back to them, they say, "I never realized it was a person, I thought I hit a barrier, or debris in the road." I've always wondered about this. Is it denial? A deliberate lie? Or do they honestly not know? How possible it it to hit and kill a person and not realize it? I was in agony. What had happened? What had I done?
With difficulty, I slowed the car down, and in a hundred yards was able to pull off the road at a convenience store. I climbed out of the car, coughing. My left thumb hurt a little, probably stuck by the airbag, but otherwise I seemed fine. I had been wearing my seatbelt. I felt a terrific urge to run back to where I had hit something, just to find out, to know, what I had hit. Then I imagined myself searching interminably in the darkness for a body... I called 911 on my cell phone instead, probably the right choice. I then called my work and told them I would be late.
Damage to my car was slight, some to the fender and turn signal. Shortly the state trooper showed up. He had found the dog I hit by the side of the road, and offered to notify the owner. It was a black lab. He also cut the airbag away from my steering wheel so I could drive safely. He filled out a report. I thanked him, and drove on to work, somewhat shakily.
I never saw the dog, except for those two bright eyes in the headlights.
1. Airbags are not 'air bags'. They are explosion bags. Having my airbag go off was like someone firing a gun inches from my face. What's in them is some very nasty products of combustion, not air. I'm glad for airbags, but they're intended to go off after your car has hit something that makes it stop. Having to continue to drive the car at speed once the airbag has inflated is a nontrivial task.
2. Poor dogs. Animals evolve to have instinctual fear of things that are dangerous to them, but apparently a hundred years of dog deaths by automobiles is not enough to engender an inbred fear of cars in dogs. I wish dogs would evolve faster.
I spent today messing around with the insurance company, a body repair place, and a car rental company. Looks like the total damage will come to a little over US$3100, with $100 deductible coming out of my pocket, plus about $6 a day for the rental car that my insurance won't cover. The rental is a 1976 Ford Llama, stool-colored, with a 1 rat-power engine. All this and automatic transmission too. Hope not to have to drive it too long.
ichi-ji-han == 1:30
hanbun == half