By Jennifer Gottesfeld, 18
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Jennifer knows now not to assume that other drivers are watching the road.

I was happily and safely driving home from work, heading west on Sixth Street in Los Angeles. The sun was on its way down. My radio was off. I wasn’t talking on my cell phone. I was an alert and watchful driver. I approached Detroit Street. The light ahead of me had just turned green. I checked the intersection, and I made sure that no crazy drivers were trying to speed their way through the yellow light that had just turned red. I began to make my way through the intersection when … Wham!

A driver going about 35 miles an hour ran the red light and slammed straight into the front left side of my maroon 1992 Honda Accord.

Time seemed suddenly to go into slow motion. I could hear myself scream but I didn’t feel like I was screaming. Echoing through my mind was the shattering of glass, the crunching of metal, the screeching of the grinding brakes. I thought my heart was going to stop; it was beating so fast. Luckily, other than extreme shock, I wasn’t badly injured, just some whiplash and a sore back.

Like many teenagers, I didn’t know what to do after an accident. I didn’t want to end up getting blamed by my insurance company even though it wasn’t my fault.

Illustration by Nicole Chi, 15, La CaƱada HS

The driver and I pulled to the side of the road. I got out and looked at the side of my car. The roof was buckled, the left headlight was smashed, and my fender had a huge dent in it. I was in shock and terrified, because whether it was my fault or not, I knew my parents would not be happy. At first I was hesitant to call them and wanted to deal with the situation on my own, until I realized that I had no idea what I was doing. I went to look at the Nissan Pathfinder that had just hit me, and it wasn’t damaged. The woman got out of her car and rushed over to me.

"I am so sorry," she said. "Are you OK?"

"Yeah," I said bewildered. "I think so."

"Oh my God," she put her hands on her forehead when she saw my car.

Accidents are tricky, and sometimes it’s hard to prove who is at fault. I was lucky because the driver who was behind me when the accident happened pulled over, too, and gave me his phone number as a witness. Try to find a person or two who saw the accident and get their names and phone numbers so that you can use them later if there is an insurance dispute.

The woman who hit me, though, was extremely apologetic, and admitted that it was her fault. I was relieved that she owned up to it, because the last thing I wanted was an insurance battle. I was lucky, too, because drivers usually don’t admit it was their fault.

When in doubt, call your parents

So I called my parents and my dad came rushing over. Meanwhile, I wrote down the woman’s license plate number and the make, model and color of the car. That way, if she decided she wanted to jump in her car and drive away, I could give the police some information. Then I asked her for her name and if I could see her driver’s license. I felt uncomfortable at first when I asked for her ID because even though I knew I needed the information, I felt like I was intruding on her privacy. But she handed over her license for me to copy down.

When my dad got there he got down all of her insurance information, where she lived, her phone number and work number so that we’d be able to contact her. You usually should call the police, because it’s good to have a police report if there is an insurance problem. But for some reason when I called all I got was a busy signal, so I called my mom and asked her to call them. By then we had already exchanged all the information and we eventually decided it wasn’t necessary to call the police. I already had the information I needed and she had admitted it was her fault. My dad called AAA (the automobile club) and got my car towed back to my house.

The next morning my parents called our insurance company to report the accident and we took pictures of the damage so that we had evidence of the crash. My insurance company told us what mechanic to take the car to and said that they would do the rest. Regardless of who’s at fault, they pay the mechanic to fix the car, as long as you have collision insurance. However, if it’s your fault, then the cost of your insurance increases. If it’s the other person’s fault, their insurance goes up. So, we took my car to the shop and they gave the insurance company an estimate of how much it would cost to fix the car. It was around $4,000.

The insurance company first had to verify that it was in fact the other driver’s fault and the other driver’s insurance company had to talk to me to make sure that our stories were the same.

I got my car back three weeks later in beautiful condition. The insurance companies concluded that it was not my fault, so I didn’t have to pay to get it fixed and my insurance didn’t go up.

After I got my car back, I was afraid to drive even though I wasn’t injured. Now I am extra careful when driving, and I make sure no crazy drivers are speeding by.