Thursday, January 24, 2013

Deadly Distractions

It’s not unusual, not at all, but it happened again, some idiot crossing the double yellow stripe, heading straight at me. I’m sick of it.

Between the humble abode and downtown Sand Springs lies a section of narrow two lane highway with a couple of 40 mph curves. Of course no one actually slows to 40 mph, that’s understandable; this is after all, Oklahoma. But it’s not the speed that scares the crap out of me, it’s the fact that so many drivers cannot seem to master the simple skills of staying in their own lane as they negotiate a curve. There is no escape route. It’s either the ditch and the telephone poles, or a head-on collision. Not a great choice.

Of course, we know the real reason for this, don’t we? It’s not a lack of skills. Even a reasonably sober person could accomplish the maneuver with ease. Nope. It’s cell phones. If you watch closely as the other driver zooms past, and I always do, he or she will be talking on their cell, driving with one hand, a glazed look in their eyes, totally unaware of the highway menace that they are.

Don’t believe it’s dangerous? Check out the daily paper where they list the traffic deaths. There’s a pattern here .

·         Failed to stop at intersection.

·         Crossed the center line.

·         Went off the side of the road and overcorrected.

Folks, you don’t make those kinds of mistakes, we’re talking fatal mistakes now, if your eyes and attention are focused on the road ahead.

Don’t even talk to me about texting while driving. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

And now, as if we didn’t have enough distractions, nearly all the new model cars are coming out with a center dash GPS and entertainment center. Go ahead, reach over there and scroll down through the songs you want to hear. Type in that address. Dial up the weather satellite. Hell, Tweet somebody. You’re only going 65-70 mph, a hundred feet a second, inside a two ton missile. What could possibly go wrong?

I’m going to tell you a story about the time I almost killed two little boys. I tell it to everyone that will sit still for a minute. I tell it often because I think it illustrates a point.  If you’ve heard it before, you can stop here. So long, nice talking to you.

The City of Sand Springs has something in common with San Francisco; they are both quite hilly. The similarity ends there. It was a sunny weekday afternoon. I was in my old pickup, going down a steadily declining grade leading into the heart of downtown.  I was in no hurry, holding at or around the speed limit, when I came upon yet another cross street. Red octagonal stop signs were in place to halt oncoming traffic from both right and left. The street to my right was not only steep toward my direction of travel, but mostly hidden from view by a good sized hill where an old house sat.

As I approached the intersection, my peripheral vision picked up movement on my right. In one split second, there were two young boys directly in front of me, riding double on a bicycle. The look on their faces is a snapshot forever imprinted in my brain. Mouths open, eyes wide in total terror, they went with their natural instinct to survive, to get as far away as possible from the monster machine flying toward them, and tried to jump from the bike. At one moment in time, I had two scared boys directly in front of me, and the next instant, frantically slamming the brakes, they were gone, disappeared, out of sight. Where were they? Under the truck? Dead? Dying? Was there a thump? I didn’t think so but…

I jumped from the truck and ran to the front, my heart about to jump out of my chest. The boys were getting to their feet, brushing themselves off.

“Did you get hit? Are you hurt?”

“No, we’re fine.”

“Are you sure? If the truck touched you, I’m calling the police and an ambulance.”

“No, we weren’t hit.” They seemed adamant about it.

“You know you blew through that stop sign don’t you.”

“Yeah,” they admitted.

And with that, they hopped back on the bike and peddled off.

An old man sitting on his front porch had seen the whole thing and approached.  “I see those two boys do that, run that stop sign, almost every day after school. I figured, one of these days…”

So here’s the thing, the moral of the story. If my reaction time had been one fraction of second slower, if I had been dialing a number on my cell phone, if had reached for a CD , or if I had had so much as a couple of beers, those boys would be dead or seriously injured today. From a legal stand point, I would have probably been found not guilty, circumstances like they were. But the faces of those boys would haunt me at night for the rest of my life.

Sure, I’ve been distracted with the very things I’m ranting about.  Drink and drive? Oh Lord, many times. But not in a long, long while. I’ve been lucky.

Luck doesn’t last forever.