Occasionally when I'm driving on country roads an oncoming vehicle travelling too fast around a corner will remind me of my vulnerability. If I have nothing better to think about, I'll look to see where I could have gone if the other vehicle had veered into my path.
Driving, I say, is a numbers game, and the higher the number the higher your chance of coming a cropper. Mathematicians tell us that I'm wrong, that probability remains the same for each event regardless of the number of preceding events, but my experience in the real world says otherwise.
My number came up last Sunday, the first time it had done so since a horse jumped a fence one night 48 years ago at Taree and galloped into the side of my car. Killed the horse and created a bit of work for local solicitors, one of whom sought compensation from me on the basis of a very old law that said horses had right of way, and another, my solicitor, who in response cited a law that said horses had to be restrained by fences or other effective means. The only winners were the solicitors, of course.
Anyway, last Sunday shortly after 10am my wife and I set out from our caravan at Port Macquarie for a drive around the Wauchope area, and 30 minutes later we were tootling along a sealed secondary road with a speed limit of 80km/h when there it was, our number.
We were approaching a bend to the right with an advisory speed limit of 45km/h when my wife started making the peculiar noise she makes often when I'm driving. And there, heading towards us and about a third of the way around the bend, was a white dual-cab ute, tyres screeching and smoking. Was it going to make it?
I had less than a split second to answer that question, and our lives may have depended on getting it right. There is a certain trauma in being propelled instantly from a relaxed state into a life-or-death crisis, and tyres screeching to what must have been very close to point of failure provided just the right soundtrack.
There was no noise from the tyres of our vehicle, because we were travelling slowly, probably about 45kmh, and I'd resisted the instinctive urge to brake to a stop, realising that we'd be sitting ducks if I had. There was, though, more than enough noise in my head.
At first I veered towards the outside edge of the road, hoping we could squeeze between the ute and the embankment, but in an instant that changed. The ute driver locked up his brakes, realising I suppose that the vehicle was about to roll, and as soon as he did that the ute was going straight, not around.
At that point I changed course, veering towards the other side of the road, and if there had been another vehicle behind the ute we'd have both been in trouble. I was about halfway through that manoeuvre when the ute hit the outside embankment, and as it bounced off it collected the side of my vehicle at the rear, on the passenger side.
We slowed to a crawl as I looked to turn around and as we did so I saw in the rear-vision mirror the ute leave.
We stopped in a clearing a couple of hundred metres up the road and my wife called triple zero, thinking that we would be doing the world a favour if we could alert highway police in the area.
That was a mistake. We were connected to the police desk quickly but the questions went on, and on. What was the nearest cross street? I don't know but we are parked at the Pembrooke Public Hall. Couldn't I see a cross street? Was I under the influence of a drug or alcohol? Were any fluids leaking from the vehicle? What was the damage to our vehicle?
There is a certain trauma in being propelled instantly from a relaxed state into a life-or-death crisis.
I see the reason for these questions but they seemed hardly suitable for our situation. We were not injured, I explained, our vehicle was not seriously damaged, and our concern was for the safety of other road users in the area.
Some time after I handed the phone to my wife to continue answering his questions, the interviewer said we should stay where we were and he would send out a police officer to see us. There was nothing to be achieved by that, and as my wife and I were deciding how we could call the police off I had a call from an officious police officer in Newcastle.
Police were too busy, she told me, to see us at Pembrooke Public Hall, and we were happy about that.
Things were different when I went with my dash-cam to Port Macquarie Police Station the next morning, primarily to ask if there'd been reports of a stolen or abandoned vehicle that may have been involved in our accident.
The police officer copied our phone photos of the scene and the black tyre ribbons on the road, took film from our dash-cam, which I'd not been able to do, expressed surprise at the speed of the ute trying against all odds to get around the bend, and laughed just a little about my wife's peculiar noise.
He also has the vehicle's rego number and says he'll be in touch with the owner. So will our insurance company, which means that we won't have to pay the $700 excess. The dash-cam, which my wife used to refer to as just another toy, has paid for itself several times over. More importantly, I will better sense the horror when I read, as I do so often, of people killed in a head-on crash. I know that there's not much the driver in one of the vehicles could have done.