Did I cause this car accident? Am I somehow responsible?
May 8, 2023 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Last night, I witnessed a car accident and I can't help but feel guilty that... I actually caused it?? I don't know what to do!!

My car wasn't damaged, I wasn't injured, I actually wasn't even *in* this accident, but I'm worried that my actions might have "caused" it and I feel EXTREMELY guilty about it. What do I do? I called the police last night about witnessing this because I felt so guilty and I have to make a statement today. I just feel like I'm totally responsible for this... ugh. Am I???

I was stopped at a red light, in the right-most lane. When the light turned green, I started to pull forward (as one does). However, there was a vehicle that (at first) I thought was just getting into position to make a right turn on a red, but they were pulling too far forward and I honked. Hoping that would catch their attention and they'd stop before doing a right turn in front of me (I had the green light, they had the red light). They didn't stop! So, I honked again. Again, hoping to catch their attention. The driver looked at me and just kept turning... so I had to quickly change lanes in the middle of the intersection in order to not hit this vehicle. I honked one more time out of frustration as I passed the other vehicle.

Then... I suddenly heard a loud bang and breaking glass. I looked back in my rearview mirror and the driver had (somehow) jumped the curb and crashed into a large stationary object. No other cars were involved. I just... did I cause this by honking? I've had cars honk at me for less dangerous maneuvers?

I don't even know what to write when I go to make the police report because I'm so stunned. What the hell?? Is this all my fault?? I feel very shaken by this and worried about... well... everything.
posted by VirginiaPlain to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, you don't bear any responsibility. The driver is 100% responsible for maintaining control over their vehicle and awareness of the road, regardless of whether there are loud noises or other things going on nearby. If they had to take their eyes off the road to look at you, they could have stopped the car to do so. Also, from your description, it sounds clear that this driver was already distracted or impaired before you did anything.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:11 AM on May 8, 2023 [55 favorites]

It's normal to feel some guilt-tinged anxiety after something like this, but from your description of the events I'm comfortable saying that you did absolutely nothing wrong.
posted by dbx at 9:12 AM on May 8, 2023 [11 favorites]

You didn't cause this. You were driving defensively and the other driver was driving in a way to indicate that they didn't see you, so you attempted to alert them multiple times. Their distraction and inability to safely operate their vehicle had nothing to do with you.

From my read, if you hadn't reacted as you did, then you would have been hit and possibly injured. Further, your action probably alerted other drivers that there was a problem, and you may in fact have prevented further injury and damage to other drivers by giving them the time to react defensively as well.
posted by phunniemee at 9:14 AM on May 8, 2023 [33 favorites]

+1 to the above answers.
posted by joannemerriam at 9:15 AM on May 8, 2023 [2 favorites]

Absolutely agree with the other answers. You did nothing wrong and probably prevented a major two-car accident.

It sounds like the other driver was not in control of their car for some reason. Maybe they were impaired or something else was going on. In any case, it was their circumstances that caused their accident, not your actions.
posted by rpfields at 9:18 AM on May 8, 2023 [6 favorites]

If honking caused accidents, every car in Massachusetts would be totaled.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:33 AM on May 8, 2023 [47 favorites]

Absolutely did not cause the accident.

The frustration honk after you were clear was obviously unnecessary and a minor peccadillo, but not the cause of the crash. Presumably other cars also heard the horn and did not crash.
posted by mark k at 9:34 AM on May 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

From your description, if you had ended up colliding it would have been the other driver's fault. So even if they did freak out because you honked at them the outcome would be the same, except this way you didn't end up with a damaged car.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:36 AM on May 8, 2023

It is far, far more likely that this person was a careless, reckless or impaired driver and that caused the crash than that the honking did, leaving aside whether you were right or wrong to honk.

I'd say don't call the cops about something where you have a vaguely guilty sense that you caused it, because sometimes people are looking for someone to blame and if you show up saying that they can blame you, they'll blame you regardless of all reason and fact.

Also: If you were driving carelessly, someone honked at you and you got into an accident, would you feel that it was their fault? I bet not.
posted by Frowner at 9:38 AM on May 8, 2023 [10 favorites]

It's normal to feel guilty because you were peripherally associated with the accident, however, it seems like you did all the right things and were not in any way responsible for the outcome of the other driver, who seems to have made poor decisions.
posted by diode at 9:46 AM on May 8, 2023 [2 favorites]

A couple of notes about the feelings you're having: experiencing a near-miss and witnessing a subsequent accident spikes your adrenaline and cortisol, which may cause you heightened anxiety and take a while to drop off. Make a point to up your self-care for the next day or two - hydrate, extra rest, eat nutritious food, light movement, and a few minutes of sunlight.

Also if you are previously inclined to anxiety in general and intrusive thoughts specifically, "I caused an accident that happened near me" is a really common topic.

It is normal for the fear/anxiety to dramatically drop off after a couple of sleeps. If it doesn't, and you keep having feelings of extreme guilt, you may need to find a more formal way to process/vent and reduce the anxiety.

The person already wasn't driving like they were alert and lucid, which is why you had to honk in the first place. They were already on a bad trajectory and you being there probably didn't change much.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:50 AM on May 8, 2023 [7 favorites]

If I'm understanding the story, the other driver was turning right on red, failed to make sure the road was clear, failed to slow or stop when an oncoming car was honking at them, and then decided to try driving on the sidewalk.

If that's accurate, I don't think you're at fault, but the other driver— whose reaction time seems to be impaired and who probably shouldn't be driving— may have realized there was a car behind them and swerved to avoid a crash, not realizing that you had changed lanes to avoid them.
posted by zompist at 9:53 AM on May 8, 2023 [4 favorites]

It is not your fault that the other driver started pulling into oncoming traffic and then drove off the road and crashed.
posted by wondermouse at 10:01 AM on May 8, 2023 [8 favorites]

This strikes me as the kind of situation that sometimes happens because people misinterpret the absence of an obligation to yield as if it were a right of way.

The right of way at intersections is Not A Thing. Nobody ever has a right of way on the road. There are only ever obligations to yield. Drivers are always responsible for driving in such a way as to avoid colliding with anybody or anything else, whether the objects they could possibly collide with are behaving lawfully or not.

At an intersection controlled by traffic signals, the drivers facing red have an obligation to yield to drivers facing green, but that does not relieve drivers facing green of their obligation to avoid collisions while transiting the intersection even if some driver whose vehicle they could potentially collide with is blatantly failing to meet their own obligations.

Similarly, simply being in the turn lane at an intersection where turn-on-red is permitted does not confer a right of way. A driver facing a red light is obliged to yield to any other vehicle in or about to enter the intersection. Facing red without even being in a turn-on-red further obliges the driver not to enter the intersection at all until the light goes green, even if nobody else is in it or about to be in it.

None of that means that facing a green signal confers a right of way. For example, a driver facing a green signal is still obliged to yield to emergency vehicles using their lights and sirens, or to pedestrians even if they're jaywalking.

All that said: when another road user fails to meet their obligation to yield, this creates a dangerous situation that needs to be dealt with as safely as possible. If you were given no chance to avoid the other vehicle before finding yourself needing to swerve out of its way - in other words, if honking to alert and swerving to avoid were the safest things you could possibly have done under the circumstances - then you've done absolutely nothing wrong.

But if you saw the other driver breaking the law by driving in such a way as to make it clear that they were failing to yield to you after your signal turned green, and you asserted a nonexistent right of way by putting your vehicle in their intended path, then you have contributed to what ultimately turned into a crash. Just not to anywhere near the same extent as the driver who failed to yield when required to.

Sadly, most people do believe in the mythical Right Of Way. So even if you could have handled the conflict by yielding way and waiting for chummy to finish breaking the law rather than by honking and swerving, it's incredibly unlikely that anybody but you is ever going to give you any kind of grief for handling it as you did. Certainly the driver who turned in front of you would have no basis at all for taking any legal action against you.

The other thing is, you just never know how these things would have played out if you'd handled them differently. If you had tried to yield to this chucklefuck, you don't know that they wouldn't have crashed into you instead of mounting the kerb. There's also a good chance that yielding way when drivers behind you would probably not expect you to could have triggered a concertina of rear-enders.

In any case, you did not collide with anything and from your description it seems that you handled this conflict as 99% of people would expect you to have done. So regardless of how guilty you may or may not feel you should never admit fault to the cops for this kind of thing. Just stick to a straight recitation of the facts about what you saw the other driver doing and what you did about it and leave anything about motivations or justification or responsibility entirely out of your statement.
posted by flabdablet at 10:24 AM on May 8, 2023 [11 favorites]

Do not say or even hint at “guilt” or “cause” to the cops or anyone else who asks you. Get it out of your system before you say a word. Report only the bad actions of the driver that caused you to use your horn.
posted by kapers at 11:03 AM on May 8, 2023 [7 favorites]

If I read it correctly seconds passed between your honk and their crash so it is not even the startle response that could account for their crash. So I’m honestly wondering if they were having some kind of medical event.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:52 PM on May 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

Nope, not at all.

Every driver is responsible for his/her vehicle at all times. If he plowed into something offroad that's his fault, unless someone physically pushed him, or caused him to "swerve" in avoidance. Honking is neither.
posted by kschang at 1:07 PM on May 8, 2023

I don’t drive but I think this is literally what horns are for?
posted by haptic_avenger at 1:48 PM on May 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

You absolutely should not say anything about feeling guilty or thinking that you caused the accident when you make your police report. You didn't do anything wrong. If you say a lot of stuff about your perceived guilt/fault, you could wind up making trouble for yourself with the police/the other driver/the insurance companies involved. It sounds like you are making a voluntary police report - i.e., they did not call you, you called them. You are already going way above-and-beyond in terms of your obligations and you should be careful not to create problems for yourself that would not exist otherwise.
posted by Mid at 2:00 PM on May 8, 2023 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers! Yeah, I guess I'm feeling a bit irrational towards this entire incident, because I just thought, after all was said and done "I didn't even need to go out to do what I was doing that evening anyway!" Which is ridiculous, and I think this statement from Frowner is exactly what I was struggling with: Also: If you were driving carelessly, someone honked at you and you got into an accident, would you feel that it was their fault? I bet not. Exactly! I've had cars honk at me and I didn't crash into anything, so I don't know why I feel like this situation is different.

However... I guess where I feel stupid is that I was so shocked by what I saw, I did call the police non-emergency hotline last night. I told the dispatcher what I saw. I just didn't know what to do. They gave me the case number to go in and make a statement which is what I'm struggling with now... I'm totally afraid I'll get all anxious about this AND say something idiotic (and people have called it perfectly, "blame" "guilt" "responsibility"). Because I already called about this last night, I feel like I *have to* give a statement. They already have my name and number. I just feel like an idiot for even calling about this, now that I've calmed down. So... I guess the other part of the question is, how do I literally follow THIS advice: You are already going way above-and-beyond in terms of your obligations and you should be careful not to create problems for yourself that would not exist otherwise. I was going to go after work today, but I'm actually thinking it'll be better if I go tomorrow instead. When I'm calmer.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 3:10 PM on May 8, 2023

I say make it even simpler: do nothing further. They have your name and number. If they need an additional witness statement, they will reach out to you.

Spend a few minutes tonight jotting down the facts as you recall them in your notes app. What you in fact witnessed the driver do and then your specific actions in response. Reflect very carefully and don't add any embellishments as to what you assume the other driver thought or did or reacted to--only write down what you personally recall seeing. Then archive the note.

IF the cops reach out later for a witness statement, you can tell them you wrote down what you were able to recall the night after the accident, and you would be happy to email a screenshot of your timestamped note to the case detective.
posted by phunniemee at 3:25 PM on May 8, 2023 [12 favorites]

Yes, decide when you're calm what precisely you'll say, run it by someone you trust for trimming of anything unnecessary, and then if you are called, trust past-you and just say exactly what you'd planned. Even if it means you're literally reading off your phone or a sheet of paper. That's perfectly fine.

However, I'm actually guessing they gave you the case number so you'd hang up and not keep calling them, rather than to set upon you an obligation to make a formal statement. It'd be a very customer-servicey thing to have done, giving you an outlet for your emotions without creating much extra work for anyone else, except that these are the cops, so you actually don't want to "speak to a manager."
posted by teremala at 3:41 PM on May 8, 2023 [2 favorites]

> I have to make a statement today.

No you don't. Don't talk to the police.
posted by automatronic at 4:21 PM on May 8, 2023 [6 favorites]

I totally agree that there is no reason for you to go and make a statement at the police station unless/until someone calls you and asks for that.
posted by Mid at 6:52 PM on May 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

Absolutely not your fault and, if anything, you alerted other drivers to a hazard (the distracted/drunk/high/just plain stupid driver that crashed). You were absolutely right to do everything you did and have nothing to feel guilty about.

You would have been best not to call the police, but that's done now so nothing to worry about. I would not go in voluntarily and make a statement, if only because you don't know what the driver that crashed has said to the police or insurance company or whatever and you don't want to appear like you think you might be even partly to blame. Doing that will paint a target on your back. You're not obliged to make a statement and should not do so unless you become obliged. Don't talk to the police without representation. Don't go and offer a statement and I'd be surprised if you ever hear from them again.
posted by dg at 11:17 PM on May 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

The other driver might have been drunk or having a medical incident where they were starting to lose control of the car. What you honked at may have been the first part of a crash that was going to happen anyway. If so, honking would actually have helped - it may have increased the driver's alertness, and it may have alerted others to look and potentially move out of the way.

My advice is to not talk to the police unless they make you. They may call you to follow up but otherwise just lay low and let it blow over. It sounds like nothing catastrophic happened - car accidents happen all the time, no biggie. This was a big deal for you, but objectively not a big deal in the grand scheme of all the car accidents in your city over the course of a year.

Finally, do record yourself describing exactly what happened - either voice record it on your notes app, or write it down (what you wrote here is a good start, just add in any other details like the intersection, time, makes and colours of cars, people you noticed, etc) and keep it for yourself.

And then play some Tetris- it's soothing and helps your brain calm down!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:28 AM on May 9, 2023

Your description of events has been bugging me since I read this.

While I don't think you caused the crash (and using your horn to say "hey, NOT COOL" was unnecessary but understandable), I can't figure out from your description why you made the choices you did.

It seems like you kept accelerating towards somebody who was behaving erratically, to the point that you had to swerve at the last minute. I keep re-reading your description looking for something like "and then they suddenly accelerated to jump out right in front of me", and not finding it. Given that you had time to honk repeatedly (and were accelerating from a red light, rather than already traveling at speed), it seems weird that you don't mention slowing down until you were sure they were going to stop, or otherwise driving defensively. It sounds like you let the situation get a lot more dangerous than it needed to be, and were lucky not to be involved in a crash.
posted by Metasyntactic at 1:17 AM on May 10, 2023 [1 favorite]

Yes, but none of that caused the crash. The OP may have been driving dangerously, but none of her actions caused the other guy to run into a telephone pole. The question wasn't "am I a good driver?"; it was "did I cause this accident?", and the answer is definitively no.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:29 AM on May 10, 2023 [1 favorite]

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