Driving safely is an attitude, an approach to life. Acknowledging this is an important first step to significantly increasing your—and others’—chances of survival on the road. It may seem strange to put something so mundane as driving in terms of survival. It seems only appropriate though, in light of the reality and finality of death. That struck home for me this summer when one of my high school classmates died in a vehicle accident. We are all responsible for reducing opportunities for tragic traffic accidents.
The difficulty with stories such as my classmate’s is that they rarely seem real. It is nearly impossible to imagine, and it is so easy to brush off. Even for many people who have had friends or family die in accidents, the memory fades and barely affects one’s attitude of driving safely. The idea is always there that it could not happen to you— you will never be the one to show up in the newspapers the next morning, you will never be the one lost.
There are well-researched physiological explanations for this. The myth that one is exceptional, and untouchable, is not unrelated to brain development and the way risk is felt. Having an idea of how inaccurate our sense of risk can be is a step in the right direction.
That nearly pervasive human quality of having an inaccurate and dull sense of risk is what gets people into all sorts of trouble. For instance, this summer as I was traveling in Central America my public bus was stopped for a regular checkpoint in which you have to present your ID to the people in uniform with their loosely held automatic weapons. And I had forgotten my ID. Surrounded by these guards, who were strictly reprimanding me in Spanish, I felt fine, comfortable even. Never mind that they were all casually holding these weapons that, in the blink of an eye, could kill me. Despite the presence of guns designed to kill people withtheslightestmovementofafinger, I felt next to no risk. I could somehow forget the danger of even being near such weapons and simply focus on the conversation. Luckily, I did get home safely from that bus ride.
Much of this is nothing new to people who already have an attitude towards safety.
But there is, of course, another layer to the story of safe driving. Just as the guards in fact minimize risk in Central America, so do the traffic laws of the United States. Virginia takes minimizing risk on the roads seriously; it is one of the states with the harshest consequences when it comes to traffic violations. These can include immense fines, misdemeanors, and even jail time. The consequences and effects are tremendous.
Oddly this sort of risk is easier to grasp for many people; the fact that every additional ten miles per hour over 50 mph doubles one’s chances of having a serious life threatening accident does not sink in easily for some reason. The time you have to react to the smallest surprise, such as a deer on the road or a swerving car, is dramatically reduced. It is fortunate that Virginia takes a hard line against speeding when placed in the context of the life and death of its residents. I would argue that relying only on Virginia law to keep yourself driving slowly is not good enough; that it is more important to carry an attitude of safe driving wher- ever you might be in the world—even in Central America where the traffic laws are less defined, to say the least. No matter your conception of traffic laws, thoughtfully and honestly consider your driving attitude. Following the speed limit, or maybe using cruise control to hold yourself accountable, is a good way to care for your own life and respect the lives of others.
-Seth Stauffer, Opinion Editor
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