Saving lives requires changing attitudes, system

Have you ever thought about the cost of a collision?

The human toll is most important — obviously you can’t put a price on a life — but what about the running tally of what a silly mistake costs everyone?

If you have ever been stuck in gridlock, your heart rate quickening, waiting for a mess to be cleaned up, maybe that thought actually has crossed your mind.

Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I had too much time — 37 minutes, to be exact — to think about it one morning when the offensive driving techniques of two commuters cost hundreds of people more than a half hour, not to mention a small chunk of our patience.

Let me first say that no one was hurt in the incident; only some ruffled feathers and a couple of bumpers were bent out of shape once all was said and done.

But it could have been much worse. That’s probably the most frustrating part — that at least one of the two parties involved was so thoughtless and so intent on making a crazy point that they could have cost each other, and possibly others, much more than some dented metal.

This incident was attributed to one driver tailgating another, according to one radio report.

Apparently, the tailgated became increasingly annoyed with the tailgater and slammed on his brakes — on a bridge — to send a clear message: Back off, pal!

Out came the fire truck: cha-ching!

And the ambulance and paramedics: cha-ching!

Two police cars and four police officers: ch-ching times four.

Two tow trucks: cha-ching and cha-ching.

Now add on the cost of raised insurance premiums, the price of someone’s driver’s license that will go up as a result, the repair bills and any chiropractic fees.

You can’t even begin to calculate the total of lost time for hundreds of people (and their employers) because these two wanted to make a point in a rather public forum. Talk about a snowball effect.

And suddenly, there’s a large bill that all the rest of us have to pay.

Well, we complain all the time about the rising cost of everything from auto insurance to health care. Today’s the day when we’re going to think of ways to prevent accidents in the first place and help keep some of those costs in check. Here’s a start.

Every driver, young or old, should be required to pass a driving test, including a defensive/proactive driving portion, every few years, at their expense (since driving is a privilege) before they are allowed to take control of a 2-ton speeding missile.

Drunk drivers who are caught are usually required to attend classes before they are allowed to drive again (if ever they are). It shouldn’t be any different if someone has caused a serious crash.

In some cities, drivers who have too many tickets aren’t allowed to drive.

Sure, some collisions are unavoidable. But think about how many crashes are the result of one or more drivers’ impatience, intolerance, ignorance … or a combination of the three. In this case, I think a driving test needs to be able weed out not just physical incapability and a lack of knowledge, but, somehow, drivers who are prone to aggression and other emotional problems. To me that’s just as important, if not more important. An automobile is a dangerous thing and even more dangerous in dangerous hands.

And how about mandatory driver training?

Of course, someone has to pay for all this. In the long run, however, it would pay for itself — both in terms of collisions avoided and lives saved — whether government or individuals were required to foot the bill.

You can’t control how other drivers act and react, but by learning the correct proactive techniques, you have a better chance of affecting the outcome.

Clearly, our system needs an overhaul, on a national level, if we’re going to save lives.

Rhonda Wheeler is a journalist with Wheelbase Media, a worldwide supplier of automotive news, features and reviews. You can e-mail her by logging on to www.wheelbase.ws/media and clicking the contact link.

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