Image by Jeffy “Woody” licensed under Creative Commons.

I was injured in a hit-and-run crash last year, and unlike so many others, the driver is being brought to justice. (I recently talked to a prosecutor about the case.) Here’s what I’ve learned to do: shout out the license plate number. Then repeat it, even louder.

Get in the habit of doing this whenever you see bad driving, and certainly do this instead of cussing. You will need to make this so habitual that it becomes instinct — at the moment it happens, you will not be able to think clearly.

Here's what happened to me: I was on a short summer vacation to Toronto. On a whim, I decided to take the bus to the nearby city of Hamilton, just to see something different. As I was crossing Main at James, with the light, I noticed a left-turning car proceeding through the intersection — clear of traffic, but not yet clear of me. I had a stomach-dropping realization of “uh, that car is going to intersect with my leg” a moment before the car’s bumper grazed my ankle.

I pivoted and began shouting out the license number repeatedly. This (a) helped me remember it when I had a chance to get to the corner and write it down, for recitation to 911, (b) alerted the driver that yes, someone had noticed, and most importantly (c) caught the attention of a witness, who was thinking clearly.

Image by Payton Chung licensed under Creative Commons.

A witness who was a block away ran back towards me just afterwards, told me that the motorist had turned right, offered a description of the car complete with a correct license plate number (I was off by one), and offered to look in that direction for the car. He found the car two blocks away, parked in a parking lot, confronted the driver, and told him that he needed to return to the scene — which he did.

Everything else about the sequence of events was relatively easy to recall when on the phone with 911, and later when filing the police report. But without the license plate number, there’s no way that I could have even begun the process.

On Thursday, Canaan Merchant wrote about WABA's new pamphlets outlining the basics of what to do after a crash. They suggest getting a police report and insurance info, taking photos, not trying to just shake it off, and remaining calm. 

That's all good advice, but only after you've correctly remembered the license plate number. 

Payton Chung, LEED AP ND, CNUa, sees the promises and perils of planning every day as a resident of the Southwest Urban Renewal Area. He first addressed a city council about smart growth in 1996, accidentally authored Chicago’s inclusionary housing law, and blogs at west north.