My driving record isn’t spotless. It’s blemished, but nothing that requires a dermatologist. Or a lawyer.
You can count the blemishes on one hand.
My first offense happened when I was 18. It was nighttime, and some friends and I went to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, for pizza because you had to drive 10 or 15 or 20 miles to the next biggest town to eat dinner.
Mount Pleasant has a downtown square and I drove around it, but on the last turn, I did not notice the traffic light – the red one. But a sheriff’s deputy did and he was right behind me. I got pulled over and pinched for a stoplight violation. Dang.
About 10 years later, I got another ticket for a stoplight violation, and the details of that one escape me. You remember that first ticket, but subsequent ones apparently fade with memory. And then there was a long pause, maybe 15 or 20 years, and I remember that one because I shouldn’t have gotten a ticket for the stoplight violation in Woodstock.
It was after midnight and cold, and I was heading home after a long day at work. Often working late, I knew the nighttime timing of the stoplights between Crystal Lake and Harvard, especially the one at the intersections of Routes 14 and 47. And the light was still clearly yellow when I entered the intersection at 55 mph, but the Woodstock police officer saw otherwise. I was given a ticket for running a red light, and there’s no arguing that, not with the police officer or a judge. Dang.
Three tickets. Three times I violated a stoplight.
The fourth ticket was five or six years ago, and it happened on Route 14 again, this time after midnight, just north of the Ridgefield Road stoplight, which was green. I just wanted to get home and I was driving too fast. Some months prior, the speed limit there was reduced by 10 mph. I had been driving that stretch of road for 15 or 20 years, and I did not notice the change. Especially when all I wanted to do was crawl into bed.
A Crystal Lake police officer had set a speed trap and I was snared. It didn’t matter that I was tired and just wanted to get home, or that I was going only few miles an hour over the previously agreed upon speed limit. There was no getting out of my first speeding violation.
But in 40 years of driving, I had never been involved in a collision. I’ve come perilously close a few times, but I was spared by divine intervention or good defensive driving skills. I count my blessings.
“Never” ended Saturday morning.
I was driving to a seminary retreat at a church in Hyde Park, and I left with plenty of time to spare, just in case I happened to get lost. I get lost regularly, so I pad my schedule to take that into account. I lack sense of direction and get confused by left and right turns.
I was on Interstate 90, just before my exit onto Interstate 55 in Chicago. There are four or five lanes of traffic there, and all around me traffic was moving fast forward.
Everyone was going at least 45 mph. Except the car in front of me, which had either stopped or was creeping hesitantly along the tollway. And until seconds too late, I didn’t notice what was going on, or not going on, as was the case.
I hit the brakes as hard as I could. The tires were squealing and the rubber was burning. I could see the smoke and smell the rubber. I could see ever more clearly the back end of the silver Toyota in front of me. All of this played out in an instant.
And we collided. No one was injured, and the damage to the cars was minor. But we were stopped in the middle of the tollway with cars zipping around us. Soon enough, an Illinois State trooper arrived, collecting driver’s licenses and insurance cards and asking for a quick summary of what happened.
In due time, we were summoned to the squad car, and we were given our papers. And I was given a ticket for what I’m not exactly sure, other than being the last guy in the collision. She apologized and said I could tell it to the judge. Right.
Now, I have a handful of driving blemishes, the last one leaving a permanent ding in my internal bumper. Dang five times over.
• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is mental-health advocate, freelance writer and former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.