Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Wet Blanket - Drive Safely

I have sometimes been called the wet blanket.  Or the stick in the mud.  I've gotten that one more often, actually.  Yes, I am a wet blanket if that is what it means when you don't condone drinking and driving, or using a mobile device while driving, or speeding, or launching fireworks out the windows of a moving vehicle, etc.  Do you notice a trend in those things I listed?  They all involve the use of an automobile.  
I've come to realize that many, perhaps most, of the things that get me called a stick in the mud involve motor vehicles.  The thing is that most people don't seem to realize that one of--if not the most--dangerous thing they do on a daily basis is get in the car and go. 
I used to be a bit of a speed demon some decade or more back.  I used to skip the seat belt.  I used to talk on my phone while driving (those were the days before texting had caught on).  I used to, as much as I hate to admit it, drink and drive.  I know a lot of people who did.  Frankly, I know too many people who still do.
And its puzzling to me.
We, as a culture, are worried about terrorist attacks and rapists and murderers, which is not to say that those things aren't a possibility, but they are nowhere near as statistically likely as being injured or killed in an automobile accident.  According to a segment I heard on NPR a while back approximately 100 people a day die in car accidents.  Can you imagine if 100 people a day died in plane crashes?  Or train derailments?  If that happened I feel there would be a general outrage and demands to make it safer.  But with cars we just, more or less, accept it as part of a packaged deal somehow.  I suppose that might be because they happen in small numbers that add up more slowly rather than in one single, large catastrophe.  Its less dramatic.
When I gave up driving on a daily basis I became all too aware of the dangers of the road.  I should have been all along, but it took taking to the bicycle to really drive the point home. 
To generalize, when we're in a car we tend to think of ourselves as cars and the other drivers as cars.  I believe this is part of the explanation for the prevalence of road rage.  But, when I am on my bicycle I remain aware that I am just a body.  In many ways a rather vulnerable, fragile body perched on top of a tiny metal frame on wheels--without the added safety of airbags, seat belts, and a metal roll cage surrounding said fragile body.   You have to be more aware.  It is a necessity.  Its survival.
I like cars.  I like the freedom of the open road.  I like hitting the pavement with Matt for an adventure to Yellowstone or Red Rocks.  But I also think, as is the case with many of our best technological advancements, that we're too lackadaisical in our approach to the use of the automobile.  We use it just because we can.  We use it without really thinking about it.  I know people who drive one block to the grocery store for a loaf of bread.  I know people who eat, text, and drive all at the same time.   That is just crazy, if you ask me.  Driving is a technical, multifaceted, complex task which deserves our full attention.  Its not like trying to chew gum and walk at the same time.  This is important, life or death stuff.  I'm tired of losing people so senselessly.
I don't miss having my own car.  99.9% of the time, at least.  It makes so much more sense for Matt and I to share one--financially, environmentally, and for our physical health.  In fact, when I have occasion to drive I almost always end up feeling so relieved when it is over.  (I have to drive across town for a Montana Wilderness Association meeting tonight and already am not looking forward to it.)  I find navigating motor vehicle traffic so much more stressful than pedestrian traffic.  As such, its much less enjoyable to me as well.  On foot/bicycle I can watch the birds, smell the flowers, and mull over my thoughts much better than when in a car.  I don't miss it at all--even when I am riding my bicycle in the rain, even when I am walking bundled up in my winter coat.  I can move at my own more human-scaled pace.   I like that better.
I imagine Matt and I will always have one vehicle between us.  We like to travel too much and America is huge.  I've got a lot of place to see yet--Carlsbad Caverns, Crater Lake, Channel Islands, Wind Caves, and so many, many more.   I hope all those journeys are safe ones.   The autonomy of automotive travel expands the options available to us when traveling.  Its a good tool to have.  But, I just wish we paid a little more attention to it and its impacts on our lives.
The traveling season is winding down now for Matt and me.  Driving on the snow and ice makes me needlessly nervous.  Road conditions in Montana are always a gamble in the winter months.  I've had enough white-knuckle drives through blowing snow to last my lifetime.  So, this settles us into a season of sticking pretty close to the homeplace--baking, making art, playing Scrabble--after a long, glorious summer of gardening, tie-dye gigs, and (blessedly safe) travel.
Drive safe now.  Winter is coming.

1 comment:

  1. I usually choose the slower highways if I can. Hurtling down the interstate at 70+ miles an hour with people flying by me is not my idea of fun. I live in a rural area of the Southeastern U.S. and when we get winter weather it is usually ice. I don't leave the house during those days!

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