Baby Drives My Car

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July 28, 2009 by David Gillaspie


An insurance adjuster spent the night here on his way to Canada.

“My son got his license after taking a safe driving class.  Lower insurance.  He crashed three times in six months .  No one got hurt.  Fender benders on the way to school.  You see them every day.

State law won’t allow passengers with new teen drivers.  They can cruise with friends once they pass a probation period.  Nick totaled my car driving alone.  He slid under an an SUV making a panic stop on yellow; crushed the front end into the radiator.

My car was already totaled with a reconstructed title.  I bought it back from the insurance company after I got rear ended.  It didn’t take much to total a twenty year old Mazda with 160,000 miles the first time.  I drove it another year.  I’d drive it another decade.  It was a perfect first car for a high school kid.  Now it’s in U-Pull-It.      

A few months later Nick and a friend bumped my Toyota into someone waiting on a yield sign.  Another lurching go-stop, this time on an incline. 

He drove alone after that.  One foggy morning, boom, right into the back of a car with no taillights stopped in the middle of a road to let a work truck in.  The police showed up for this one, the only time they came to the scene. 

Back home I sat with my boy and started in.

“I can’t see in your head, or look at any replay.  I don’t know what happened, but one time it’s going to be real bad.  You’re building up to something so we’re going to nip it.  Can you tell me what just happened?  I want to know.  I want to know you know.”

We looked at each other, both upset.  I sensed a teaching moment, also sensing it was two crashes late.

“I can see these crashes happening to anyone, but they’re happening to you.  Does that mean anything?  It should.  Tell me you were texting.  Tell me you on the phone.  I’ve got to know you were doing something, otherwise I’m lost.  I don’t think you’re too mental to drive, so tell me what’s going on.”

My approach could have been better.  The discussion with the policemen at the scene of the crash ended with me ordered to stand by my car while they interviewed my kid.  They apparently didn’t need my help in solve the mystery.

Nick needed my help though, and I needed to know I could trust him if he ever drove again.  What to do?  Since he was going to court with a ‘following too close’ ticket, I decided to use the process as a way to engage him in legal consequences.

We visited an arraignment in county court where a man in an orange suit stood in a clear booth answering questions into a microphone.  I told my kid he looked like Eichmann, then gave him a brief history of WWII. 

Before going to court we researched whether the crash site was on a city or county road; called the construction company that owned the work truck pulling onto the road; called a traffic flagging company the construction guys hired to see who they had working that day. 

We uncovered everything we could think of and took the found facts to court in a sequenced stack of maps and documents.  During his testimony Nick showed poise, a natural in his setting.  He argued that the car he hit was parked in the middle of the road, that he wasn’t following him at all.  He convinced me.  The letter of the law says he’s innocent. 

Of course the judge found him guilty through an interpretation of ‘following too close.’ He said he was obviously going too fast for the conditions that morning. 

“Guilty.  Please see the bailiff for your papers.  The cashier is down the hall.  Next?”

On the drive home Nick asked how a judge can change the law.  He knew the law.  Part of his rehab assignment was reading the law.  He broke it down the way it was written and applied his Constitutional Rights.  It was a watershed moment.

“Remember the guy downtown, the orange suit in the glass booth?  You’ve hit three cars, got a ticket, been to court on one.  You’ve read the law and seen it applied in action.  You didn’t whine when you lost. 

You learned something, but to be sure, answer this: From what you know, who gets the ticket if you crash into Adolph Eichmann’s trunk?  Who’s the bad guy in the eyes of the law.  From now on if you want to go to court,  go to law school.”


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