The moral of this story is “Be prepared.”

The complete moral is  “Be prepared and know what to do if you’re in a vehicle accident.” In a recent car vs. car interaction, I wasn’t prepared and didn’t do what I should have done. If it had been a car-accident test, I would have flunked.

A story’s moral usually comes at the end, but I wanted my readers to know it early on, in case they became distracted and didn’t get to the end of this column.

Now to the story’s beginning. Once upon a time this summer, I was driving to a meeting in Fresno. All was going well until I was ready to make my last left turn to get to my destination. I was the first one in the left turn lane at a red light at a busy Fresno intersection, and I patiently waited for the light to turn green.

Eventually, the green arrow appeared, and I began my turn into the correct lane. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a car in the oncoming direction starting to make a right turn onto the same street,  going in the same direction I was.

I wasn’t worried because the driver had an access lane to turn into, separate from the lane in the street I was entering. The driver could make the turn and then later enter the lane I was in. I’ve encountered this driving situation often, so I didn’t think anything of it.

A few seconds later, however, I felt a big thud and realized the driver had inexplicably kept moving out of the access lane and into mine, ramming into my right rear passenger door with the jolt.

It’s been a long time since I was in a car accident, so long ago I can’t remember when. But I now realized I was in one, and I knew I needed to pull over and talk with the other driver.

Fortunately, I saw a nearby entrance to a parking lot and turned in, trusting the other driver would do the same, which in fact is what happened

So far so good. After both cars were parked, and I got out of my car, I realized the other driver was an elderly lady. Well, to be honest, she looked about the same age as I was, which is elderly. She, however, was short and thin and frail.

My first thought was to try to assure her not to worry, that we both, I’m sure, have insurance, and the insurance companies would work this out.

I asked her if she was OK. I knew I was, and she told me, in a soft, quaveringvoice, that she was OK, too. Even though we had both felt a thud and jolt, the impact came when we were both traveling no more than about five miles an hour, and neither of us had suffered anything close to an injury.

Then she nervously asked me, “Was I at fault?”  To which I gently said, “Yes. I had the right of way because of the green arrow.”

“I never saw you,” she replied. “I’m so sorry. My daughter won’t like this. She’ll want to take my license away, and I won’t be able to drive anymore.”

I immediately went from soft to softer. “Don’t worry, ma’am. I’m sure everything will be all right.”

We both examined the damage to our cars, which was noticeable but not particularly serious. Both cars were still clearly in drivable condition.

Trying to further calm this sweet elderly lady, I said, “Let’s just exchange names, addresses and telephone numbers and then later this afternoon notify our insurance companies and let them do this rest.”

She appeared to relax a little. I had a notebook in the car. I wrote down my information on a sheet of paper and gave it to her, then she wrote her information and gave it to me.

Her name is Mary (the name has been changed to protect the guilty), and she lives in Fresno. I asked for her insurance company’s name, but she told me she didn’t have her insurance information with her.

Trying to keep her calm, I said OK and asked that either she or her insurance agent call me once she arrived home, found her insurance agent’s name and  reported the accident to the agent.

One more time I told her everything would be all right, and then we both got in our cars and drove away.

Once I got to my meeting, a few minutes later, I excused myself for a few minutes and called my insurance agent’s office in Los Banos. I wasn’t worried, since over the four decades Joe has been my agent, he and his staff have taken good care of me.

Sylvia, who works for Joe, answered the phone, kindly listened to my story and took down the information the elderly lady had given me. Sylvia told me not to worry, the insurance company would take care of it from here. I told her I would stop by the office later that afternoon to fill out the standard forms.

At my agent’s office, Sylvia and her colleague Rhonda asked for more information, such as the time of the accident and the exact location. They also took photos of the damage to my car. I told them I would give them more information after Mary, the elderly lady, called me.

The next day, I expected a call from Mary, but it didn’t come. I waited one more day. Still no call. So, I called the number she had written down, and I got this response from a robot: “We’re sorry. The number you called has been disconnected.”

That’s when I said—no, I shouted–to no one in particular, “I’ve been had. I bet that little old lady is a scam artist.”

That’s when I realized I hadn’t done what I should have done after the accident. I realized I hadn’t been prepared. (To be continued in a future column.)