They’re out there, amongst us all. They’re sharing the highway with you, on your way to work, on your commute home or while doing errands around town. High schoolers out for a joy ride. Women texting their boyfriends cruising st 75 mph. They’re your neighbors who believe vaccines have tiny micro chips controlled by Bill Gates. Some others are stoned, some are drunk; some are stoned and drunk. Some are narcissists who believe the rules don’t apply to them, others mentally ill or back from a war, traumatized or otherwise depressed over a loss of a loved one due to Covid, or an accident or a mass shooting or abuse. There is no escaping the American driver.
I take comfort in knowing I don’t have to take my life into my hands driving amongst them much anymore because I’m off the hook. I spent half a lifetime driving behind the wheel to and from work. Driving was more treacherous and anxiety-producing than work itself.
Still, when one drives a lot one has time on one’s hands. One gets to thinking, to daydreaming and wondering ”what if?” or ”why not?”. I wondered – and still do – why there are so few ways for a driver to communicate to others while driving. Sure, there’s brake lights, directional lights and the horn. But that’s about it for a driver to alert, warn or inform his fellow drivers of his intentions or mindset.
So for example, before changing lanes a driver looks at his mirror(s) to first judge whether it’s safe to do so. He uses his directional signal to communicate his intent. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. For many drivers though there is no signal. Many drivers act as if they own the road, don’t care about you (or their own safety). And it shows.
I wonder how many drivers currently on the road don’t even have a license. No license means no insurance, and the two together probably means these vehicles aren’t properly maintained. I imagine treadless tires, wipers that don’t work well, with tie rods ready to fall off when a pothole is hit. Driving in the Commonwealth reminds me of the ”Hill Street Blues” police captain standing at the lectern warning his officers “to be careful out there”.
If I were in charge of my destiny while traveling on the roads I would write to Ford, GM, VW, Toyota, Tesla too, all the vehicle manufacturers and have them invent and install a special sensor that automatically senses one’s state of mind upon entry into the driver’s seat and communicates it to other drivers. Maybe it would be a colored light that flashes green or blue indicating the driver was distracted or depressed or angry. The sensor recognizes whether the driver’s mind is preoccupied. The sensor would act like a brain imaging machine that reads the mind and brain waves of the driver and communicates that to all the other drivers on the road. (A similar machine called ”The Truth Machine” which eliminated dishonesty was found in the 1996 science fiction novel of the same name by author Jim Halperin). If this new sensor were incorporated into every vehicle I believe it would drastically cut down on traffic mishaps and fatalities.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know one’s state of mind can effect judgment. Drivers preoccupied thinking about the future or the past rather than the task at hand is common. Anyone whose been in an accident knows how one false move or misjudgment can almost instantaneously change the trajectory of one’s life, the life of one’s passengers and/or the driver and passengers of the other vehicle.
I know this to be true: I landed in the Cambridge City Hospital with a concussion after being hit by a VW bus while jaywalking at age 22. I was at fault and the driver ran a red light. I know; a few years ago when I was blinded by the sun while on a ramp driving onto Rte 495 I accidentally hit the car in front of me and thankfully no one was hurt including a toddler in the backseat. Not so lucky was an acquaintance who mindlessly opened the driver’s side door of his car without first checking his side view mirror and slammed his door into a cyclist, hurtling him and his bicycle aside, paralyzing him for life. No wonder ”The Dutch Reach” was invented by Dr. Michael Charney a lifelong cyclist himself to help prevent this kind of mishap from ever happening again. I think of that accident every time I park anywhere and open my driver side door.
Yes, driving around here is not for the faint of heart. While driving, a little civility and consciousness of one’s fellow drivers could go a long way in getting to one’s destination and back again in one piece. Invention and installation of a mind reading sensing machine is not likely any time soon. In that case I suggest we go back to to practicing more courteousness and awareness because the same lack of respect for each other experienced in other parts of society seems to be the norm while driving around here. And that’s a sobering thought.