This year I came within a whisker of being killed.
It was the most frightening moment of my life.
And if I (and my husband Pete) hadn’t been saved by some kind of miracle, we’d have been two more names to add to the list of 370 people wiped out on New Zealand roads so far this year. In the one remaining week that’s left of 2017, it’s likely that still more people will die in yet more crashes.
After all, there’s least one life per day being snuffed out.
My near miss was way back in winter, but I still think about it sometimes. The memory still chills me. We were driving from Christchurch down to Tekapo. I was at the wheel and decided to take the scenic inland route across the Canterbury Plains to the Rakaia River.
The Plains are wide open and empty. The roads are straight and flat. You can see for miles and can drive for long minutes and not encounter a single other vehicle. That’s what made our near catastrophe so shocking.
Cruising along at 100kph I glimpsed through trees another car going fast off to my left, heading south, same as me. I had the fleeting impression that there must be a parallel kind of road alongside my road, Highway 72. I had no sense of danger.
What I didn’t know was that we were both approaching a crossroads. And in a moment the other car zoomed through that intersection right in front of us.
He missed our front bumper by a hair, a whisker, a millisecond.
The separation seemed as slender as the sweep of an axeman’s blade, or the tip of an angel’s beating wing.
It was strangely silent, that giddy, razor’s-edge moment. I heard nothing, felt no panic. Had no time to take my foot off the gas. The car’s trajectory was so close that it was a mere blur of glass and metal. It was like a zip of light, a lethal arrow, driven by a deadly wraith. It came and went so fast I could not tell if it was white or silver. I caught a flash of the driver’s profile. A man, I think. Or some speed-crazed teen. Staring ahead, it seemed, with hands high on the wheel. And then he was gone, tearing off to the west behind us as I went on southwards, cursing, trembly, outraged.
I yelled ‘Jesus Christ!’, over and over.
And ‘fucking hell!’ and ‘Holy Mary, mother of God!’ Mary and I aren’t well acquainted and I’m not Catholic. Odd how I called out to her. . . but, oh, how very, very close we’d come to sudden death.
Later, I looked for the intersection on Google Maps. The view above looks north. Imagine I’m hurtling towards you. The other car is speeding in from the right on an insignificant minor road. There is a compulsory stop sign – clearly visible, as is the yellow line he should have stopped on. That driver did not even slow down as he hurtled across the highway in front of me.
I found too, that this is a scissor-shaped sort of crossroads, so when I got my first glimpse of the other car it seemed to be travelling side on to me and so had not rung any alarm bells in my brain.
But our closing speed was enormous and if we’d collided there would have been a huge explosion at this lonely spot as cars and humans were crumpled, crushed and ripped apart and then there’d have been silence except for the sound of random bits of metal settling to the ground. And then, in not too many minutes, some other unfortunate traveller would have come upon the carnage. And our daughters would have got the official knock on the door that everyone dreads.
I pondered for days on how little things I did that morning might have made me drive a little faster or slower. I’d gone briefly back into the hotel for something after we’d checked out. I’d stopped somewhere on the journey to take off my jacket. The timing of it! For a thousand reasons, we might have been just that millisecond further on down the road on that sunny day. And would have been dead.
Yes, I know, this is hardly a cheerful theme a few days before Christmas. But do, do be careful, my darlings.