Road Risk

Thanks to Marie for another very helpful prompt for thinking and rethinking things I take for granted.  This time, driving.  In response to an earlier post of mine mentioning my wife being hit by a drunk driver, Marie had this (in part) to say:

We all take a chance when we drive. I often wonder about how we’ve distanced ourselves from that. Sure, some driving is necessary, but let’s say (and I don’t know the numbers) there’s a one in a thousand chance of getting in an accident each time we get in the car. Would it not make sense that we would structure our lives to minimize time in a vehicle? Each time we get in, should we consider whether the reason we are doing so is worth the risk? When we take jobs or sign up at schools, etc., that require daily commutes, should we factor that in as being as dangerous a health choice as smoking? Especially when you look at populations with low illness and death rates — children are more likely to die in car crashes than of heart attacks, frankly — by driving kids around, we are actually dramatically increasing their chances of being seriously hurt or killed unnaturally early in their lives, and little other in our world has that effect.

I think that there is some really valuable things to think about here.   I know that I take driving for granted, it’s an extension of my personality in some ways, an expression of my independence.  But as you point out, it’s also a documented, statistically verified risk.  I who pride myself on never having smoked think nothing of jumping in the car for a drive, or taking the long way home or to a given destination.  Driving is pitched as a fundamental part of being American, a coming of age rite and right.  But it’s not very effectively talked about in terms of risk, of danger, of the very real potential for lost life or mobility. 

The dangers of driving are often mitigated.  Driving is dangerous if you’re under 25.  Driving is dangerous if you’re drunk.  Driving is dangerous if you’re tired or on prescription medication.  Driving is dangerous if you’re on the cell phone or texting or even just deeply involved in conversation with your passengers.  But driving itself – under normal conditions and situations – is never really talked about as inherently dangerous.  As though hurtling down the road in a hunk of metal that has very real limitations in terms of stopping ability or even control abilities is no big deal.  And as though, even if you’re in the perfect and most focused state of mind and body, you aren’t still at risk from myriad people who are texting, who are talking, who have been drinking, who are on prescription medications, who are too tired. 

I suspect that if the auto industry and all of the associated support industries were not so integral to the US economy, we’d be more open to talking about these very real dangers, and looking for alternate transportation options.  We might look at subways and trains not as options for the less fortunate or others who can’t or shouldn’t drive, but rather viable options for safely getting our spouses and children from one destination to another.  We might see the benefits of designing our cities for transportation options other than just cars and motorcycles.

I’m guilty of ignoring these risks, and guilty of forgetting them all too quickly once the shock of an accident has worn off.  I tremble to think of what it would take to keep me more permanently mindful. 

2 Responses to “Road Risk”

  1. Karen Says:

    A very good thing to think about, Paul. I once thanked a friend of mine for trusting me enough to drive her two youngest children to/from my house each week so they could play with my two youngest. But I don’t, on a regular basis, think about the dangers of getting in the car each and every day. Thanks for sharing! And doesn’t it make you even more thankful for your wife this holiday?

  2. Paul Nelson Says:

    Each and every day!

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