Bob Denny: Don’t die on the road!
Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 3:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 3:40 p.m.
We were among the 50-million Americans predicted to travel for the Thanksgiving holidays. We shared the Interstate with cars that switched from lane to lane and followed threateningly close. There was a feeling of frustration, stress, impatience, and even hostility in the air.
Suddenly there was a flurry of brake lights, as everyone threw on brakes. Highway speeds of 70 miles per hour plus were instantly stopped dead in their tracks, and we found ourselves part of the bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go routine. I felt a wave of relief and relaxation. After about 15 minutes of creeping traffic on both lanes going our way, we passed a thoroughly destroyed and mangled vehicle. I found myself wondering if it was a lesson presented to these drivers to slow down and be safe.
Later, I learned that we weren’t alone. 100 vehicles piled up together in Interstate 10 in Texas. On our way back from Virginia, we passed a highway sign in Tennessee: “833 died this year in traffic.” In Georgia, a sign read “1038 traffic deaths so far this year in Georgia.”
In our “human growth and development” psychology class that I teach at Florida Gateway College, we learn that the causes of death are different at each age. In infancy, it’s disease that’s the big killer. For senior citizens, it’s heart disease, stroke, and cancer. But for teenagers, young and middle adults, the leading cause of death is accidents. Death in auto accidents leads all other accidental deaths, by far. Actuarial tables, charts specifying cause of death for each age group, are used to determine your estimated longevity (that is, how long you can expect to live, on the average.) With all causes of death considered, you may be expected to live well into your 70’s. But, if we exclude accidents as a cause of death, you might expect to live to 90 or 100.
What could this mean to you? If you could reduce your risk of dying in traffic, you might expect to live 10 or 20 more years past your expected longevity!
What are some ways that could help you reduce your risk of accidental automotive death? Here are some ideas; and I encourage you to be creative and to come up with some ideas of your own.
• Wear seat belts! Almost everywhere, it’s the law. But maybe one third to one fourth still don’t.
• Remove all distractions! It’s estimated that the majority of accidents are due to distractions like cell phones, texting while driving, adjusting the radio or heater. (I noticed one obviously impaired driver reading a book at 70 miles per hour yesterday!)
• Be patient and thoughtful. Don’t follow so close. At 60 MPH, if you’re 2 or 3 car lengths behind, you have no chance of responding in time if something happens to the car ahead. Drop back 2 or 3 seconds behind the car in front of you. Relax.
• Don’t keep changing lanes. The police recognize lane changing as a major cause of accidents.
• Alcohol, even very small doses, impairs your judgment and reaction time. Prescription drugs usually have side effects detrimental to driving ability.
• Are you tired or sleepy? Get off the road. Take a walk, have a coffee, or quit driving for the day.
• The best drivers focus on their driving, look half-a-mile down the road, and anticipate situations before they happen. Move over early, and make room for cars entering the highway to merge from the access ramps.
The holiday season is just getting started. Be safe. Don’t die a senseless, meaningless, and easily preventable death. You’ll not only give yourself extra years, but may help lots of others you’re sharing the road with to live longer. I hope you thoroughly enjoy the holiday season.
Bob Denny teaches psychology at Florida Gateway College. Comments are welcome at Bob.Denny8@gmail.com.