What to memorize before you’re in a crash

Crash report

I was injured in a hit-and-run crash last year, and unlike so many others, the driver is being brought to justice. (I recently talked to a prosecutor about the case.) Here’s what I’ve learned to do: shout out the license plate number. Then repeat it, even louder. Get in the habit of doing this whenever you see bad driving, and certainly do this instead of cussing. You will need to make this so habitual that it becomes instinct — at the moment it happens, you will not be able to think clearly.

What happened to me: I was on a short summer vacation to Toronto. On a whim, I decided to take the bus to the nearby city of Hamilton, just to see something different. (Oh, it’s different, all right.) As I was crossing Main at James, with the light, I noticed a left-turning car proceeding through the intersection — clear of traffic, but not yet clear of me. I had a stomach-dropping realization of “uh, that car is going to intersect with my leg” a moment before the car’s bumper grazed my ankle.

I pivoted and began shouting out the license number repeatedly. This (a) helped me remember it when I had a chance to get to the corner and write it down, for recitation to 911, (b) alerted the driver that yes, someone had noticed, and most importantly (c) caught the attention of a witness, who was thinking clearly.

A witness who was a block away ran back towards me just afterwards, told me that the motorist had turned right, offered a description of the car complete with a correct license plate number [I was off by one], and offered to look in that direction for the car. He found the car two blocks away, parked in a parking lot, confronted the driver, and told him that he needed to return to the scene — which he did. (Like a good Canadian, this witness apologized profusely on behalf of Hamilton, and while we were waiting for the police talked about his hockey league.)

Everything else about the sequence of events was relatively easy to recall when on the phone with 911, and later when filing the police report. But without the license plate number, there’s no way that I could have even begun the process.

All of the above is also good advice, but only after you’ve correctly remembered the license plate number.