I survived a head-on collision.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I wanted to get your attention. Although I indeed was involved in a minor, fender-bender type of head-on collision, I was stopped at the time and the car that hit me was going about 3 or 4 mph. The other driver, distracted by trying to do something on her cell phone, made a right-hand turn very wide, right into my lane as I was coming out of the side street she was turning in to.
She was an older woman and looked very much like someone’s grandmother. Impeccably dressed for summer in Newburyport fashion, she was driving a Volvo station wagon. After she hit me, it took a full 2 or 3 seconds for what she had just done to register on her face. It felt like time stood still during the entire 10 seconds of the accident (if it was even that long). I saw the oncoming tragedy and was helpless to prevent it (outside of laying on the horn, which went unnoticed).
Because there was virtually no speed involved in the accident, there was no damage and no injuries, except for a broken license plate holder on my Mazda. I felt badly for the woman because such things can happen to anyone at any time. We all have bad days. She was nice about things, and after surveying and finding there really wasn’t any harm done, I just wished her a good day and we both went along our merry way.
Life is random, and the events that happen to us are also very much random. We try and structure some order into our lives and our routines, but when it comes to things like having a heart attack, getting hit by a car, or being laid off, it all is ultimately much more random than we care to acknowledge. Sure, you can cut down on heart attack risks, you can try and defensively drive as much as possible, and you can try and find a career that seems immune from layoffs (like investment banking was 3 years ago?). But even if you do all of that, that’s no guarantee. The perfectly healthy man still gets a heart attack, and that bullet-proof career can still not work out.
I won’t pretend this little fender-bender resulted in some great epiphany for me. It didn’t.
It did remind me that driving is a task that requires virtually all of our attention to do well. It also reminded me of this article I wrote just a year ago about what the research shows about distracted driving. We live in a society that embraces multitasking, so it seems perhaps inevitable that we can’t stop it from invading our cars. Yet texting, and to a lesser degree, talking on your phone, are dangerous activities while driving, resulting in reaction times similar to if you were drunk.
Even though the person who hit me had plenty of time to see me, see she was in the wrong lane, and hear my horn blaring, she didn’t react. She didn’t react simply because she was distracted by her conversation on the cell phone.
We take for granted that our minds are up for the task of driving while distracted. But we overestimate our abilities. The resulting potential consequences are so much worse than for virtually anything else. For instance, you won’t likely be causing any physical injuries if you find yourself texting while eating with others and missing parts of the conversation. Others may think you rude, but that’s about the extent of harm.
So that’s my story of “surviving” a head-on collision. I’m thankful it wasn’t worse and that neither of us was injured.
Read a timely, related article published on Sunday about the risks of cellphones while driving: Many drivers ignore risks of cellphone use. And the New York Times on Monday noted how the government’s highway safety agency was encouraged not to conduct a large, long-term study into cell-phone safety use, and censor hundreds of pages of research and warnings about the use of cellphones by drivers. Why? For fear of angering certain members of Congress. Great.