17-car sorta-pileup on the 101 (and I was in it!)

This is a momentous day. Just over a week away from my 34th birthday, and I got in my first-ever car wreck while behind the wheel (I’ve been in a couple with others driving) — and it was a doozy! A seventeen car chain-reaction.

CHiPsTraffic had stopped really quickly and I had just finished congratulating myself for not smashing into the Toyota minivan in front of me when the Honda behind me gave me a memorable physics lesson. I initially avoided impact and came to a stop, but the woman driving the Honda behind me took the brunt from a giant garbage truck behind her and ever-so-gently (in relative terms) slammed me into the minivan.

Things I learned:

  • Camera phones (or digital cameras in general) are really useful at an accident scene. Instead of writing everything down, take some photos of the damage, a copy of the relevant people’s insurance cards, etc.
  • In 17-car accidents, the police break things up into smaller sub-accidents, and the iterate over the smaller accidents.
  • One way to meet a cross-section of Silicon Valley is to get into a large accident. I met a garbage truck driver, a woman who works at Cisco, a couple of Highway Patrol guys, and a woman of indeterminate occupation. I don’t recommend this as a way to meet people, but you’re gonna be on the side of the road for a while, so why not exchange a few pleasantries?
  • In accident reports, one of the first things the cops ask you is, “were you using a cell phone at the time of the accident?” (I wasn’t).
  • People are surprisingly calm in 17-car accidents (and this one didn’t seem so bad). There’s something about seeing 16 other cars on the side of the road in various states of dented-ness that makes one think, “I’m lucky that this wasn’t worse.” When 17 cars are involved, you’re bound to see at least a few cars that got it worse than you.
  • I grew up in North Carolina as a big fan of the old CHiPs TV show (we used to ride our bikes and pretend we were CHiPs). For that reason, I felt like I was dealing with a celebrity when the motorcycle cop from the California Highway Patrol took a report from me. They are good guys. . . just like Ponch and John were.

Anyway, I’m ok and my car seems to need some minor bodywork. Whew.

Postscript: I found possibly the most naive FAQ question EVER in a CHiPs FAQ:

Was the popularity of “CHiPs” ever exploited by marketing?

Uh, “yes.”

3 thoughts on “17-car sorta-pileup on the 101 (and I was in it!)

  1. I pulled up your blog and “Highway to Hell” just started playing on the radio. Glad to read that you are OK. Gotta watch out today’s 06/06/06.?!?

  2. I’m sorry to hear about the accident, but as a computer guy I loved reading your discovery of the police using some kind of divide and conquer algorithm to work through a big accident.

  3. I am from Colorado, and was heading to LAX on Weds. A black car turned sideways in the north bound lanes and hit the retaining wall right next to me. He was partially over it and I could see almost all of the underside of his car. It looked like he(or she)flipped over and then (in my rear view mirror) I could see everyone crashing into each other….very dramatic sights and sounds.

    Glad you are OK. I have been trying to find info since last week, and googled “pileup on 101” and saw this.

    If he had come over the wall, I would have hit him head on…lucky day for both of us

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