In 2013, Melinda Ferguson had a high-profile car crash that forced her to review the way she saw the world.

Car crashes are strange. Depending on their severity, they can live with you for years. Perhaps even for the rest of your life. After such an incident, most people say things like: “it wasn’t my fault”, “that guy came out of nowhere” or “that woman was driving like a crazy person”. Some excuses can be really quite creative: “I started to slow down but the traffic was more stationary than I thought”. 

Others brandish their crashes like in-your-face tattoos. A bit like those “I caught a fish this big” stories, with the anecdotists vying for the title of most outrageous tale. Others shove their collisions into a box of bad memories, relegated to a shameful experience and best forgotten.

In 2013, I had a monumental car crash that I could hardly hide away in the casket of unmentionables, as much as I longed to. I took a R3.2 million Ferrari California on a test drive and landed up totalling it some eight hours later. And when I say “totalled”, I mean bits and pieces of supercar were strewn across the road – a tyre here, a side mirror there. The shell was crumpled, the engine was sardined.

To cut a long story short, while overtaking a slow-moving truck, I failed to take note of an intersection and ended up T-boning a seven-seater Mitsubishi Pajero. After spinning out of control, almost obliterated by an overzealous airbag, I emerged from the wreckage like a zombie. The first thing I remember saying was: “I didn’t see the robot! A tree branch was blocking my view”. To this day, even though I know this to be true – I have the photographs to prove it – most people thought it was just another tall story, in the same vein as: “the accident was due to the road bending”.

Thankfully, I wasn’t drunk or stoned despite the rumours that quickly began to spread. In fact, I was celebrating 14 years clean and sober by taking that red Italian beauty out for what was meant to be a joyous drive but instead ended up as an utterly unforgettable Monday, with the expensive Ferrari ultimately exiled to the car cemetery. 

It became nearly impossible to hide away from my shame as photographs were snapped on the scene … and they soon went viral. The Sunday Times published a story a few days later under a headline along the lines of: “Author trashes rare R3.2 million Ferrari”. I was told Gareth Cliff spent ten minutes on 5FM belittling me, insinuating that women shouldn’t be allowed to drive Ferraris, while another radio station went one misogynistic step further and hosted a phone-in, asking listeners whether females should be allowed to pilot supercars at all.

By this stage, I was crying too much to pay any notice. I’d just been handed an excess bill of around R350 000, plus owed another R330 000 to the Pajero driver. I landed up checking myself into a clinic because I simply couldn’t stop crying. Three weeks and a hell of a lot of tissues later, I emerged to face my critical (mainly male) colleagues at the launch of a new Renault Duster.

I’d come across a Zen Buddhist quote during my hospitalisation that went something like this: “Don’t wait until the car crash to get your priorities straight. Do it now”.
I was faced with two choices: curl up, leave the world of motoring behind and die or get back into the saddle, pay more attention at intersections, sign up for some advanced driving lessons and forgive myself. And so I did the latter.

About Melinda Ferguson 

Melinda is the author of three best-selling memoirs: Smacked, Hooked and Crashed. She is a motoring journo for the Daily Maverick and has a Saturday car show on Cape Talk. She heads up publishing imprint Melinda Ferguson Books.