Friday, December 3, 2010


by Sheila Connolly

I was sitting in the passenger seat in my husband’s car in the post office parking lot, waiting for him to mail some bills, when another car pulled out of a parking space and backed directly into our driver-side door. It made a definite crunching sound, so I waited a moment for the driver to pull forward again or at least stop. Nope—she just kept going, right out of the parking lot.

But I'm a mystery writer, right? So of course I got her license number. Beyond that I was pretty much useless as an observer: I could tell you that the driver was a white-haired female, not tall, and that the car was an older model and showed no damage when I watched it pull away (while memorizing the license plate). And that was about it. Don’t ask me to be a witness at your trial.

My husband didn’t even notice the damage when he got into the car. Maybe “damage” is too strong a word: the door panel was slighted pushed in, period. I had to tell him about the incident. To put this into perspective, he drives a 1993 Honda Civic with a lot of rust, so you might guess we aren’t too concerned about appearances, at least where our cars are concerned.

But then we faced a dilemma. Do we report it to the police? There was no question of filing an insurance claim, but still, it was an accident, and the woman had driven away, oblivious, which is itself a crime. So we decided to go talk to the police (I should note that the police station is two blocks from the post office—it's a small town).

Armed with the license number, my husband went into the station. (I, the witness, elected to stay in the car so as not to overwhelm our tiny police force. Besides, it's my husband's name on the registration). An officer entered the license number into his computer and came up with the owner of the car: an 84-year-old local woman driving a ’93 Mercedes. The officer did not reveal whether she has had any prior accidents.

He then offered my husband a choice: one, he could file a formal complaint (which, the officer implied, would involve both time and paperwork), or two, he could call the woman. Huh? The “victim” in this case is supposed to call up a stranger and tell her that she had run into him and didn’t even seem to notice? And that's all?

I was disturbed that the police seemed uninterested in doing anything about this, and came close to discouraging my husband to act. Face it, this woman is still on the road, in her tank of a car. This event took place on a beautiful day, with clear visibility, so she has no excuses. What if the next time she runs into something, it’s somebody’s beloved pet, or worse, a child? She is at best unaware of her surroundings; at worst, criminally negligent.

What would you do?


Sandra Parshall said...

I would report the incident because it's probably time for this woman to stop driving. She undoubtedly wants to remain independent as she ages -- don't we all? -- but she's dangerous.

MaxWriter said...

The question is, what did your husband do? You left us hanging on that one, Sheila!

I also think the woman should be reported. You really don't want the next hit to be a child walking with a green light in a crosswalk. Any child. Any person.


Anonymous said...

I vote for reporting also. There are people who are excellent drivers and those who have multiple "small" accidents, for which everyone ignores, until they kill someone.

Ang Pompano said...

Maybe if she has family in the area you should contact them and let them know that their 84 year old mother probably isn’t even aware that she’s running into things.
What I find interesting is your comment that the police seemed uninterested in doing anything about this, and came close to discouraging your husband to act. In writing, we all run into the problem of justifying why the amateur sleuth should get involved. You’ve got the classic excuse there. After you get the poor woman off the road, have some fun with it and turn it into a story.

Sheila Connolly said...

So far my husband has opted to do nothing, but for the wrong reasons--he doesn't want the fuss and bother, and he doesn't want to make a little old lady unhappy. I too was surprised by the attitude of the police department--they more or less discouraged him from doing anything.

Weigh that against a fatality, and it looks pretty bad. I think I'll show him the responses to this post.

Elise M Stone said...

I'm with the police officer. I'd call the woman up and ask her if she realized she ran into your car. Depending on her reaction to this, I then might file a report.

Having an 83 year old mother who recently had a serious accident that ended her driving career, I also think that contacting a relative, if possible, might be in order. The woman probably doesn't realize how much her judgment has deteriorated.

Rochelle Staab said...

I would call her. Regardless of her age, she's an adult and she's accountable for her actions.

A woman backed into my car parked in a lot at the gym. Of course her white car left scuffs on my black car and vice-versa. The next morning I tracked her down in the gym.

Her response? When she got out of her car and saw there was no damage to HER bumper, she left.
She ended up paying for the damage to mine.

lil Gluckstern said...

I would report the accident, because that is what it was. Your Honda had no chance against Mercedes, and neither would any any one else. Her age is one where vision and depth perception are deteriorating, and she needs to be aware of that. I am hesitant about your getting involved with her family, etc. It can be an invitation to trouble. Good luck.

Julia Buckley said...

I'm not even convinced that the old lady didn't know she'd hit something. But I'm a suspicious type.

I too have been disappointed by the police in certain situations; I had to go to them twice in the last 20 years, once because I left my debit card in the machine (I was under a lot of stress at the time) and drove away, and the person behind me took out cash on my card. I only realized this later, and I went to the cops, who seemed to think I was lying in order to get my bank to give me the 50 dollars.

Another time I received a new credit card envelope in the mail, but both of the cards were missing. I called the police, who suspected ME again. I assured them that I didn't steal my own new credit cards, and that it was likely someone at the post office.

Then they told me that the post office would have to investigate that themselves.

Marilynne said...

Sigh! If I was the woman driving, I would have gotten out, apologized, and left you with all the info. If you were so inclined, you could point out that it did no great damage and we could part civilly.

If I'd been run into, I'd be shocked that she drove away. Her inattention may get someone killed, maybe herself included. I think I would have filed the police report. Sometimes that person will come back and sue you for damages, even though they caused the accident.

Krista said...

This is such a huge problem. We had a neighbor with Altzheimer's who couldn't recall where she'd been. She came home one day and there was a long red stripe from one end of her minivan to the other. Clearly, she'd hit something and instead of backing up, drove forward. I asked where she'd been and she couldn't remember. Did she have groceries in the car that needed to be put away? She didn't know. I found a pizza in the back seat.

Years later, I realized she must have hit the red pole at the drive through window of a local drugstore. It's a tight squeeze and would have been the right height. I breathed a sigh of relief that it probably wasn't another car that she hit. BTW, the neighbors finally took action and, with the consent of her physician, helped her move to a home where she could get the care she needed.

Honestly, I think I would take the "talk with the family" route. I'm willing to bet the woman has no idea that she hit you. Her hearing is probably bad and her eyesight might be worse. Having the police involved would probably be incredibly upsetting for her. I'd let her family handle it.

~ Krista