Rear View

By Hannah Wallace September 30, 2008


Vehicle: 2008 Mercury Sable sedan, being test driven

Driver: Robert Bowden

Location of incident: Private residence, Fort Myers, Fla.

Damage: Dent in trunk lid

Charges: Senior moment, driver; inadequate equipment, vehicle

Investigating Officer: “Describe to me what happened on the day of this accident.”

Robert Bowden: “The family and I had stopped by a relative’s house after a pleasant day on Sanibel Island. We’d taken three granddaughters to see the lighthouse and pick up a few shells. Good day, overall.”

IO: “Get to the accident, please.”

RB: “As I was saying, after we left Sanibel, I drove us to a relative’s house, where we had an early supper. The accident happened there.”

IO: “And what were the specific circumstances that led to denting this four-door?”

RB: “To understand, you need to envision the driveway. There’s a single turn-off to the house that branches into a loop that passes in front of the house. But this relative refuses to ever sell a vehicle, so a bunch of them line the driveway in various states of rust. Other cars were parked along the loop, as well, so I had to angle the Mercury Sable into a spot inside the loop. That’s where I parked it for supper.”

IO: “Is that where you struck the object that made the dent?”

RB: “No, that happened while I was backing up. Everyone got in the car; we had to put one seat belt around two little ones because there were six of us in a five-passenger car. Anyhow, it was raining lightly and the windows were up. I looked into the interior rear view mirror and began backing up. I looked at the left side outside mirror, but couldn’t really see anything clearly. The car was blocking my view.”

IO: “Go on.”

RB: “We were barely moving. Honest. I had to turn as I backed—to miss another car and a tree—and I began straightening out the front wheels as the Sable got onto the shell loop. I looked straight ahead and noted that the car was properly within the loop. So I started to back toward the single exit to the main road.”

IO: “Your eyes were on the road in front of the car?”

RB: “Well, yes. I mean, I couldn’t see much of anything behind this car. The rear window side pillar was blocking the view on my side of the car, and the rear window sill blocked my view of what was directly behind the Sable. So I had the typical limited visibility of a driver backing up. That’s when I was sure I needed a rear-view camera. I even said so at the time.”

IO: “Did the car have a navigation screen?”

RB: “Yes, it did, as part of $1,995 GPS system. That screen was showing a map, but Ford hasn’t figured out to incorporate the rear-view cameras used on most European and Asian cars. So I was denied the image that would have shown me the tree.”

IO: “What tree?”

RB: “The one I backed into. The one that made the dent.”

IO: “You didn’t see a tree?”

RB: “No, sir.”

IO: “Did it just jump out of the bushes and surprise you?”

RB: “Not exactly. But it was one of those curving coconut trees, where the trunk doesn’t go straight up. This one was along the edge of the driveway loop, with the trunk swinging over the shell road. I think I saw the base of the tree in the outside rear view mirror, but I never saw the curved trunk I was heading for.”

IO: “You sound like you’re blaming the car.”

RB: “In a way, I am. The car denied me the safety feature that could have prevented this accident. There is no excuse today to have a navigation screen on the dash and not have a rear view displayed whenever the car is in reverse gear. These can save the life of a child playing behind a car or a dog sleeping in the driveway. These ‘see’ what no driver can see from the front seat.”

IO: “Didn’t this car have a reverse sensing system that costs an extra $195, with ultrasonic emitters on the rear bumper?”

RB: “It did. The problem with that thing is the number of false alarms it makes. Even backing out of a Wal-Mart parking lot, it beeps like crazy if the Sable is between other parked vehicles. You learn to ignore the system and rely on your eyes.”

IO: “So did the car warn you or not?”

RB: “The beeper went off. I ignored it.”

IO: “That wasn’t smart.”

RB: “In retrospect, you’re right. But this isn’t a good warning system. I’ve driven lots of cars with good systems. A good system has a row of lights above the rear window. Green means everything is copacetic, so keep on truckin’. Yellow and a series of beeps mean there’s something behind you. Slow down and find out what. Red and a steady tone means you’re within inches of hitting something. The Sable only gave me the beep-beep-beep. No steady beep. No lights. I didn’t know I was about the hit something.”

IO: “It’s your fault, buster. You hit a tree; the tree didn’t crash into you.”

RB: “The car must share the blame. For $32,350, I deserve better from this Sable. I mean, the car doesn’t have attention-grabbing looks or performance or handling. It’s just another car, with nothing exceptional to recommend it. And I’m ticked off about the lack of a rear-view camera. That’s like skipping anti-lock brakes or a side air bag. Rear-view cameras should be required for every vehicle with a navigation system.”

IO: “I’m afraid I’m going to have to charge you with having a senior moment that resulted in a dented trunk.”

RB: “I plead extenuating circumstances. Notice the bumper never touched the tree. The tree leaned into my path at upper trunk level.”

IO: “So how’d you like the car otherwise?”

RB: “Just another car, frankly. The mileage—18 city and 28 highway—is OK, but there’s nothing special to send buyers to this one. I gotta tell you, the guy who owns the property watched me back into the tree. Know what he said?  ‘Everybody backs into that tree.’ Can you believe that? I got a chain saw in my garage that needs to meet that tree.”

IO: “That would violate environmental rules for tree removal. I’m afraid I’d have to charge you if you assault the tree.”

RB: “Can I go now?”

IO: “I’ll send your insurance company a copy of the report. And I must tell you that senior moments are known to result in premium increases. Have a nice day.”

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