Dear Judge ******* *****,
The issuing officer advised me to write this note in lieu of requesting a mitigation hearing, as I expect to have put several thousand miles between myself and your courtroom by the time my court date would arrive.
I have been told that I am supposed to explain the circumstances of a recent car accident that resulted in my receiving a citation for “FOLLOWING TOO CLOSE [sic].” On September 29th, I was driving down from the Canadian border on southbound I-5. The first thing I did upon arriving in Seattle was to ram the front of my car into the bumper of a Mazda SUV. While merging into rush hour traffic on the interstate, I had heard a honk behind me. I glanced backwards over my shoulder, but I was clear; the honk was not meant to warn me that I was approaching an unsafe proximity to another vehicle but rather it was an expression of frustration delivered by a woman who was now an additional car length’s distance away from her destination. I gave it a bit of gas to complete the merge, turned forwards once again, and saw that the car in front of me had stopped short. I hit the brakes, but it was too late. I heard the sound of my headlights shattering.
Of course, I do accept full responsibility for the accident. As a driver, it is my duty to ensure that the road ahead of me is clear at all times, and I have no intention of trying to convince you that the responsibility lies elsewhere. I do take comfort, though, in the fact that unlike other unpleasant situations I have encountered throughout my life, this time I did not find myself wondering in the hours and days that followed what I could have done differently, how I could have avoided the accident. Is the act of merging into traffic such an unpopular task because it requires that our full attention be simultaneously aimed in two different and opposing directions? I could say that in the future I will endeavor to focus more intently on the road directly ahead of me. Yet most vehicles are equipped with that Achilles Heel of a blind spot that does require a quick turning of the head in order to confirm the presence of adequate clearance. I could venture, when merging in the future, to leave more space between myself and the car ahead of me. Yet realistically speaking, we all know that it often proves impractical to trust our fates to the willingness of other drivers to respect our use of the blinkers; instead, the traffic behind me would almost certainly scoot ahead and fill up the empty space that I had so thoughtfully attempted to create. No, a certain degree of assertiveness, albeit a cautious kind, is imperative, lest we find ourselves helplessly funneled from onramp directly to off ramp in a strangely disappointing circulation that would then generate an entirely different set of problems.
It was an accident, and as I do not make a habit of involving myself with these, it is something that I can accept having caused. Yet, standing on the highway beside the shattered glass and hissing radiator, trying to get the angrily unresponsive driver of the SUV to at least confirm that she was unhurt, I found myself wondering what lesson I was supposed to learn from the experience. According to one website of unknown integrity, the average American gets in seven car accidents throughout his or her lifetime. My first took place eight years ago on a black rainy night at the peak of a hill with bad visibility, caused by my own inexperience as a driver; it was literally slammed into me that the course of my life could be altered in a split second. Two years later, a potent combination of black ice and reckless adolescence culminated in the Life is Fragile lesson, which came to me in the form of punctured air bags smoking into the night sky through shards of windshield clinging to twisted metal. I stood there, shivering in the cold, studying the seatbelt burns etched into my chest, yet it wasn’t until later that the tears finally came.
And now, this fender bender, after six years of maintaining a clean driving record blemished by just a single speeding ticket (the average American earns six!). But why did this happen? What lesson was the universe trying to teach me? I already understand the ephemeral fragility of my own existence, I already know how to properly merge into traffic. Regardless of how extensively I choose to reflect on the incident, I still don’t know why it happened to me. Or, for that matter, why it happened to the lady I rear-ended; or why it happened to the woman who had honked—she waited for quite a while before finally merging around my blinking hazard lights, the expression on her face revealing her awareness of the role she may have played in the accident; or why it happened to the thousands of people who were all late for something because they got stuck in the traffic that accumulated behind my vehicle, abruptly sedentary in a place meant for motion. All I can do is defer to my faith that the things that happen in this life happen for a reason. Perhaps somebody’s cell phone had lost service, and his wife was waiting at home, worried, and when he finally arrived late, the relief led to some healing in a damaged marriage. Perhaps the honking woman will never again to use her horn as an instrument through which to express her frustration. Maybe a speeding HazMat truck narrowly avoided a deadly collision because the congestion I created with my fender bender forced the driver to slow down. Or maybe none of these were the effect of the accident. Maybe I just pissed a few thousand people off because it took them longer to get home from work.
I did later realize the significance of my immediate reaction to the collision. First reactions are inherently unadulterated by reflective intention and are therefore instead perhaps a rare and pure window into the deepest realities of our attitudes. My first reaction—and I hope that you will excuse my use of this kind of language in an obligedly formal letter—was not FUCK!!! Instead, I took a deep breath and then slowly nodded my head. Come to think of it, perhaps the accident came into my life as a sort of gauge of my ability to accept hardship and unpleasant circumstance. Or maybe I really was just following too closely.
It is, of course, now up to you to determine the appropriate course of action as to the citation. A variety of websites tell me that “the primary purpose of traffic-violation regulations is to deter unsafe driving and to educate and reform bad drivers.” If you feel that I or my actions fall into these categories, or, if King County is struggling to make ends meet (I have just been reading about how traffic tickets are a multi-billion dollar industry, and I certainly wouldn’t want to interfere with the workings of this great instrument of capitalistic society), then I will promptly and ungrudgingly pay the fine I have been issued. When considered alongside thousands of dollars worth of auto repairs, a $175 ticket is the least of my present financial concerns. Or if, after reading this note, you believe that such a legal penalty is excessive or altogether unnecessary for me to shoulder as I wade through the process of dealing with the aftermath of this accident, then I would be grateful for any mercy you might choose to grant me. Either way, I have explained myself as well as I can hope to, and I trust that you will handle this in the appropriate way, whatever that may be.