Thursday, March 19, 2015

Drivers: Be Prepared

(Reclaimed from Bubblews, where it appeared on October 7, 2014; updated. Topic credit: Leni wrote . Image credit: Jusben at Morguefile,

This morning I looked back through a printout of some private journal entries I'd planned to publish on Associated Content in 2009.

Around Christmas of that year, a snowstorm wiped out electrical power in most of Scott County, Virginia, for about two weeks. Regular readers may remember that I posted an article about walking to Kingsport, Tennessee, where the lights never blinked, and spending time with a relative who had the Internet at home.

What I didn't post, although I noted it at the time and meant to post it, was that during the night before I walked to Kingsport, four residents of Scott County had died trying to drive to Kingsport. Through the falling snow. Around the fallen trees and power lines. They didn't think they could get through even one night without electricity. They didn't think they could walk ten, or maybe twenty, miles in the snow. And evidently they really couldn't do what they tried to do as an alternative.

That morning, I walked past a few of the cars out of which those people, and others who weren't killed, had been lifted by emergency rescue services. Not to mention some cars whose drivers had just sensibly decided to pull over, park the cars, and walk home before they were injured.

This winter's weather disabled hundreds of vehicles but it's pleasant to read that apparently most of the drivers got out in time. The Kingsport Times-News web site, when searched for "traffic death," pulled up an article from mid-February in which someone had reported 901 wrecked or abandoned vehicles but no fatalities. It's possible that the original version of this post, along with a few hundred others, helped encourage drivers to avoid driving in bad conditions, even parking beside the road and walking home, whenever they can.

Recently I was in a car with a relative who spent several years car-free in the city and is readjusting to being a driver. Why do people have to be so rude and not dim their lights when they meet other cars on the road at night, he said angrily. I agree that this behavior is rude and obnoxious and hateful and a source of pain and danger, but I've also noticed that many of those who increasingly indulge in it are older drivers who don't like to admit that they can't see to steer by their dimmer lights any more.

The majority of people in these United States were born between 1940 and 1970; the majority of that demographic were born between 1945 and 1955. This means that a lot of Americans' eyes are aging. Some of us are needing more light to see where we are going, some of us are feeling more pain when we see bright lights in the dark, and those who are close to becoming "legally blind" from cataracts are suffering from both of these conditions. This means that we need to make a demographic shift from being a car-dependent culture to either a car-free or a chauffeur-employing culture. I don't see that shift happening yet, but it needs to happen. The incidence of motor vehicle accidents in the news lately is getting surreal in my part of the world.

Personally, being car-free, I fantasize about closing roads for a year after any kind of collision has occurred, taxing cars per mile driven, all sorts of schemes to pressure people to drive less. I also know that those schemes, like all schemes to push people to do things they don't want to do, would do at least as much harm as good. Americans need to sell the idea of driving less, not try to bully people into it.

But those of us who want to be alive next year do need to think about how we're going to get through this year's road hazards.

If you drive, do the obvious things. Plan to spend more time driving slowly and cautiously in rain or snow. Prune dead trees. Keep your brakes in good condition. Get your tires retreaded if they're worn. Have tire chains, even if you don't drive in snow, just in case you get caught in it.

And, if your eyes are aging, break your addiction to driving. Please. For your sake as well as everyone else's. Ride the bus. Hire taxis. Pay a friend or relative to drive for you.

If you can't see the road when you hit the dimmer switch, that's probably a sign that you need to stop driving.