Thursday, March 24, 2011

Risky Business

We were driving down the freeway and she was texting. But she wasn't texting where she could be seen by a highway patrol officer. Since it's against the law, she was holding the cell phone in her lap and looking down to write her text. I was terrified, but I didn't say anything. I sighed a huge sigh of relief when we arrived at our destination. I should have spoken out, but I was afraid of hurting her feelings. I did check to make sure there was an air bag in front of me.

Why do we do that? Why do we put ourselves or others in danger for the sake of keeping the peace...or for the instant gratification of sending or reading the text NOW instead of five minutes from now?

I remember years go my mother talking about a friend of hers, a priest, who had spent the evening at her house, having dinner and drinking way too much. When she talked about the evening to me the next morning she said she was so relieved that he made it home safely because when she saw him stagger down the stairs barely able to make it to his car she worried so much about him.

Huh? She was putting a drunk in a car on the highway. The heck with his safety! What about the safety of the people he might hit if he caused an accident. I asked her why she continued giving him drinks when he was clearly not fit to drive. "Well--he wanted another drink," the consummate hostess replied. Never say no to anyone, especially a man, who asks for another drink he's really already too drunk to have.

We don't take the warnings or the dangers seriously.

I remember when my uncle was still alive. He had macular degeration and his vision was severely hampered, but he felt it was safe to drive because he "only drives around town" and he brought my aunt Barb (who had Alzheimers at the time) with him to let him know when a stop sign was coming up. He lived in a relatively small town. But my god, he could have killed someone just backing out of his drive way.

People talked to him about the dangers, but everyone was afraid of him, so nobody actually took his keys away from him. They didn't even warn the DMV when he renewed his license. He was legal to drive until he was 100. I was relieved when he died without having killed someone.

When I was a young adult, we all had stories about dumb things we did while having had too much to drink, many of which included funny driving incidents. Heck, when I was working for The Lamplighters in the 1980s, I would go out to dinner with Gilbert after work. We would each have a Manhattan before dinner, many nights, and then split a bottle of wine. I would then drive the 80 miles back to Davis. Many nights I knew that I was not safe to drive and once I fell asleep at the wheel and almost ran into a fence (THATwoke me up pretty quickly and I never drove home again after drinking too much)

We think of ourselves as invincible. Those are the things that happen to the other guy. But somebody has to be the "other guy" and sometimes that "other guy" is us. Or someone we love. Or one of our children.

Of course there was David, whose friends did all the responsible things -- took him home when he was too drunk to drive after a party, hid his keys from him, and, when he found them, took the keys away from him twice before they finally got him to sleep and went to sleep themselves. Nobody could have guessed he would have gotten up a third time, found his keys and tried to drive home, his last minutes being wrapped around a telephone pole in San Francisco.

There are people who drive too fast, who follow too closely, who text while driving, who do other dangerous things behind the wheel. We really need to be reminded that we are sitting behind a huge metal object that can easily kill people, often ourselves.

Is it really that important to get there 5 minutes earlier by putting the life of everyone on the highway in danger? I often see cars speeding and weaving in and out across thre or four lanes of traffic. I pray that a highway patrol car has set up a speed trap.

Please. If you drive a car, drive as if every other car on the road was being driven by your own child. If you're late for an appointment, make an apology when you get there, don't drive too fast to try to make up for lost time, or text a warning message while holding your cell phone in your lap and not looking at the highway.

(I have become the person my father hated. The old lady driving the speed limit on the right side of the road. He would impatiently wait for a chance to speed past her.)

And, for god's sake, don't do what a man I had to ride with one time over the speed limit with one hand on the steering wheel so he could check his phone messages with the other, while looking off to the side at me to tell me something. I never, ever got into a car with that man again. At least he was sober.


Harriet said...

You've asked why, but you've also mentioned some of the reasons. Selfishness. Instant gratification. Did it start with our generation? Did our parents pass down the beginnings?

And why is it "too much trouble" to try and stop it?

Kerry said...

I am continually astonished at how much carnage we tolerate simply because it involves a car. Just say sorry, and all is forgiven. Cyclists, pedestrians, other cars- oops.

Most people do not take driving seriously enough, in my opinion. Maybe it's because it's so easy to get a license. Maybe it's because most of the time nothing happens. Most people think they can multi-task just fine. Most of them, in fact, do not.

I'm with you. I want every driver on the road to be attentive, sober, and well-rested. I do my best to be that driver. Even when one is prepared, things happen. I saw a car spin out on the road in the rain the other day- driving along, looked like he was doing it all right. But suddenly he was spinning and sideways and sliding across the lane. How much worse would it be if he were not paying attention, drunk, tired, etc?