In a novel I’m reading, I’ve come across a usage of いる that surprises me. The context is that a woman is driving along, deep in thought about an encounter she has just had with another character, when suddenly her train of thought leads her to an epiphany about an unrelated matter. She is so startled that she slams on the brakes without even realizing it, as we learn from these two sentences describing the situation when she comes back to herself:
I interpret this as “She had slammed on the brakes. If there had been a car behind her, she surely would have been rear-ended.” But since I know (or thought I knew) that the verb いる is used only with animate subjects, its use here raises several questions. I’d like to know whether this usage seems natural and correct, how common it is, and whether there are other contexts in which one might use いる with an inanimate subject other than a car.