We are not perfect, you and I.
Many of us drive too fast. Some of us talk on our cellphones while we’re behind the wheel. We eat in the car and we play with the buttons on the radio and sometimes we get angry while we’re traveling 100 feet a second.
These are not so much an intentional flouting of the rules as they are bad habits. Mistakes in judgment.
But they are mistakes that can, and often do, lead to wrecks.
In 2010, the latest stats available, there were 5.4 million car crashes in the United States reported by the police, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
We drove 2,966,506,000,000 miles (that’s 3 trillion) that year.
Do the math and you get one wreck for every 54,000 miles driven, give or take.
Which makes James “Jackpot” Sutfin something of an anomaly, an outlier. He’s kind of a freak, to be honest.
He’s driven 3 million consecutive, fully documented miles without a single wreck. If he were an average man, Sutfin should have been in 55 wrecks over those miles.
But he’s not average. Not by a long shot.
“I’m not invincible,” Sutfin said the other day, when his employer honored him for achieving such a landmark.
“You try to learn from other people’s mistakes,” he said. “Because you ain’t going to live long enough to make ’em all yourself.”
He started driving trucks in the Army, way back when he was 17. He’s 60 now, long out of Vietnam. Long on the road.
“I like it,” he said, “because I ain’t got nobody standing over me.”
He’s on the road five days a week, driving about 2,770 miles between Las Vegas and Richfield, Utah. He’s usually driving a triple-trailer through the mountains.
Sutfin started driving for a living not long after he left the Army. His first job paid $8.50 an hour.
He met a girl named Cat up in Michigan. They settled down here in Las Vegas. He took a job with Con-way Freight, which has a service center here.
“You some kinda supertrucker or something?” someone asked him once.
No, he said. I’m just careful.
Like the other day. He was going over the Clear Creek summit on Interstate 70 in Utah. There was snow. Lots of it. He was supposed to be picking up three trailers.
“It ain’t safe,” is what he thought. It’s not legal, either, to drive a triple in those kind of conditions.
So he called it in. I’m not taking three trailers, he told the bosses. I’ll take two.
“I was right proud I did,” he said.
It is not unheard of for someone to do what Sutfin has done, to drive the equivalent of six trips to the moon and back, or 120 trips around the globe, without a fender bender.
But it’s rare.
“I’ve never heard of a 3 million-mile feat,” said Nevada Highway Patrol Capt. John O’Rourke, who attended the ceremony Monday at Con-way’s yard.
Lots of troopers were there. They gave him an escort into town along Interstate 15. They cheered, along with the company’s employees, when Sutfin broke through a red ribbon and hopped out of his truck.
Everyone was there to celebrate what is, frankly, not so much an achievement as it is a lack of screwing up. It is human nature to screw up, not because we’re evil, but because our bad habits don’t usually have immediate consequences.
Somehow, Sutfin has avoided that.
“It takes focus every second of every minute of every hour of every single day” to do what Sutfin did, said Greg Lehmkuhl, Con-way’s president.
It takes stowing your cellphone. And playing with the radio before you get moving. And eating at the house and not getting angry at the rest of us when we do stupid or downright mean things out there on the road.
It takes, like Sutfin said, learning from the mistakes everyone else makes.
Because there are plenty of them. None of us is perfect.
Five and a half million car wrecks a year don’t lie.
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