In July of 2016 I picked up my first brand-new car — a 2016 Mazda3 S Grand Touring hatchback with a manual transmission and exactly the color combination I wanted. It had 4 miles on it when I drove it away!
Living in rural Vermont means everything is far away. In the 20 years I’ve been driving, I’ve averaged 20,000-30,000 miles per year. In those several hundred thousand miles, except for a couple superficial scrapes here and there, there hasn’t been a single accident or mark on my driving history. That is, until September 2016. That’s right: Two months into the ownership of my first brand-new car, Murphy and his law went into effect, and my streak had come to an end. Figures.
I was on my way home from work, within a mile of my destination, minding my own business. Twenty One Pilots was blasting on the radio and I had just downshifted into third gear, letting the engine slow me down for my upcoming right-hand turn. A deer, presumably startled by a nearby dog I could hear barking afterwards, had bolted at full speed through the trees between the yard where I assume he was grazing and the road I was traveling. You can probably see where this is going.
At roughly Mach 2.4, the deer entered the roadway. With no time to consider my options, instincts took over. Adrenaline filled my veins — and while I know the whole thing was over in an instant, it felt like it was happening in slow motion. I could feel my mind doing its thing. Its first thought, obviously, was to stop the car. So I slammed both feet down, one on the brake pedal and one on the clutch. Next, I couldn’t be certain whether or not I saw a car in the oncoming lane. So I kept straight. Knowing now that impact was inevitable, I braced for impact. Whump.
Hitting a deer at about 30 mph may not be an overly significant impact, but it was still more forceful than I anticipated. When the deer leapt from the hillside trees into the road, its legs bent to absorb the landing, which lowered its body, so I hit the deer’s body rather than its legs.
After impact, I took a moment to assess the situation. The deer had slid on its side a surprising distance until it gained some traction in the gravel on the edge of the roadway and came to a stop. It instantly got up and limped as quickly as it could back into the trees. My car was still running — thankfully, without any significantly different noises. I put the car into first gear and let the clutch out slowly. It started to move under its own power, again without any significantly different noises. I made my right-hand turn and pulled off into the well-lit parking lot of a nearby business to assess the damage.
The headlight was broken, looking a bit like the eyes of that annoying little Transformer that starts its life as a boombox. The fender had been curled back, the bumper cover cracked and broken. Because the body was very low on impact, the hood suffered only minor scratches. The wheel-well liner and undercarriage plastics did not fare as well, and neither did the washer fluid bottle, which had spewed its contents all over the ground by this point.
I called my wife to let her know I’d be late, and then I called the local police station. An officer arrived shortly thereafter to survey the incident. He quickly determined that I was not at fault — and since I called in the accident, it was unlikely that I was under the influence of anything I would want to hide. I was home a short time later, shaking my head, still slightly rattled while I took a few more pictures.
The following morning I drove the car to work and called my insurance agent to let her know what happened. Because the headlight was out and would need more than just a bulb, and since my evening drive is mostly after dark on the interstate, we decided it would be safer to get a rental car with two working headlights instead of just limping my car along until the body shop was ready. While waiting for the car to be fixed, I put a couple thousand miles on a Ford Focus, and I was very excited when the day finally arrived that I could have my own car back.
And that’s the story of my first real accident. I’m thankful there were no injuries (other than my poor car) — but, while it may not have been a big one, it was still my first one. And you never forget your first one. Find a Mazda3 for sale