Driving (S)kills

A big milestone for lots of people is the day they get their driver’s license. As a kid I had longed for that magical age of 16, not thinking about the fact that my parents could barely afford to keep a running vehicle for their own transportation to and from their demanding jobs. They could never have afforded to put all four of the children living in their household into a running vehicle.

By the time I turned 16, my mother and little brother and I shared a two bedroom apartment (later it boasted a third bedroom for my brother, down a flight of stairs into the “dungeon”). My Sweet 16 party was nothing like those ludicrous displays of wealth on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16.  My mother stocked the kitchen with tons of junk food and got me a blue jersey that said 16 on it in giant white print.  I had one good friend come over to stay the night.  I think Mom had to work, not sure where my brother was.  My friend and I inhaled junk food, guzzled soda, blasted music, and giggled all night long.  I think that’s what should happen.  But there was no brand new, gently used, or even barely running car in the driveway for me.  I didn’t go down to the DMV and take a test.

I was almost 18 by the time I got my license.  I took Driver’s Ed through Job Corps.  My first day out in the student driver car, the instructor had the nerve to take me into Lawton OK and have me drive around.  I almost turned into an oncoming lane, confused at the concept of a divided highway.  But mostly Driver’s Ed was fun.  There were two instructors.  One was a fat old American Indian (or whatever PC term I’m supposed to use) who would send us driving around Indiahoma, Snyder, and Mountain Park to run errands for him, only occasionally venturing into Lawton when he needed to run errands there or when he had decided we should do a “dry run” of the test route at the police station.  The other was an old balding white guy who made constant commentary on the troubles of American youths but he was funny and cool about it and he let me drive myself to work study.

I was 21 before I got my first car, a deathtrap I stupidly purchased from a sleazy buy here pay here as is no warrantee car lot in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  That car caught on fire on an interstate going 70mph on the way to work one evening.  Two weeks after getting it back out of the shop the front right CV joint gave out and I was bounced off of guard rails before coming to a stop inches from a the edge of a bridge.  After the car was totaled out, it was another year before I had a vehicle of my own.
I am generally a careful driver, at times perhaps too careful.  I do have some driving vices, like a lead foot on the accelerator or using my phone while driving, but I pay attention to actual and potential obstacles on the road and watch where I am driving.  I have gotten two tickets and one warning for speeding, and one warning for driving without headlights but that was a mechanical failure.
I always use my turn signal when turning or changing lanes.  I’m freaked out by drivers who don’t.  And that signal means something.  But apparently some people in Fort Smith think the light is decorative, or that it signifies my desire to have them speed up as quickly as possible so that they are kissing the bumper of the vehicle in front of them in case I accidentally merge into their lane or gods forbid I successfully execute a turn.  I will go out of my way to make a turn at a light-protected intersection because I hate guessing the intentions of oncoming cars.  I’ve had way too many people put their own lead feet down just as I’m preparing to turn, bridging a 200ft gap between us in five seconds.

I’ve come a long way from the distracted driver who tried to give a ride across campus to that cute (but probably gay) waiter and was too busy flirting to notice that there actually was a car in the lane I was trying to merge into.

Even though I do love to test the limits of my own speedometer, I don’t think it’s safe to do so unless there are no other vehicles in sight.  It is dangerous to you and your fellow travelers to speed up and weave in and out of the other vehicles on the road.  You may be in a hurry to get to the scene of your own fatal crash, but the rest of us are trying to get ourselves and our babies safely home from the Wal-Mart and don’tneed to die just because you were in a hurry.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2009 there were 30,797 fatal crashes in the United States.  33,808 people died in these crashes. Drivers, Passengers, Motorcyclists, Pedestrians, Pedalcyclists, and for some reason they have a categeory for “Other/ Unknown”.  I supposed those are people that died but CSI couldn’t determine if they’d been in or on the vehicles or had been pedestrians.

A show on Spike TV boasts that there are 1000 Ways To Die.  Chances are there are way more than 1000 ways, and you cannot prevent your own eventual death, but you can at least avoid contributing to the possibility that your death will happen prematurely or at your own hands.  Chances are you already have either been in a car accident, or you know someone who has.  Chances are you may even know someone who was critically injured or killed in a car accident.

My mother attributes her end of alcohol dependency the wreck that totaled her car, and nearly killed her and several strangers who were unfortunately driving on the same stretch of road when she lost control of her vehicle that winter night in 2004.  My grandmother was a little girl when she and her parents were in a car accident which left she and her siblings orphaned.  I witnessed a wreck when I was in first grade that left a classmate and her little sister orphaned.  I’m 25 and I can still hear that baby screaming for her mommy, pinned in the front passenger floorboard of the car while her parents sat sickeningly motionless buckled into their seats.  That wreck was the result of a poorly planned out five way intersection policed only by seldom followed stop signs.  Five cars ran five stop signs and ruined the lives everyone in all five cars.  I know time can play tricks on a child’s memory, but the scene is still vivid to me to this day.

You cannot control the other drivers on the road, but you can be safe.  That text is not important enough to risk the life of you, your family, and the strangers sharing the road with you.  That meeting is not important enough to drive 90mph on the shoulder in rush hour traffic to get there.  That keg party at your friends’ house was probably fun; call a cab home or crash on their couch.  NHTSA hasn’t released the 2010 stats because the year isn’t over yet.  Don’t end up in the 2010 final tally.  Don’t start off the 2011 tally.

Indigo Girls–I’ve seen the shadows of so many people trying on the treasures of youth, a road that fancy and fast ends in a fatal crash.

View the full blog at heartchasms.blogspot.com and like the blog on Facebook.

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