Tolerated Manslaughter

Emergency Room
(CC BY SA 2.0)

Today I almost got hospitalised. Or killed, I don’t know. In all other respects, it wasn’t a particularly interesting day: a Friday morning, sunny, warm…seemed like the time of year to hang up my winter helmet and gloves and wipe the dust of my summer helmet. I was looking forward to wrapping up some work that’s been dragging on and then looking forward to the weekend. I was driving to work in the morning rush hour, avoiding main roads as I usually do, but I have to cut across them somewhere

I was crossing an intersection, red light for car traffic, green light for me. The closer of the two lanes in the one-way street was packed with cars: the second one seemed empty, but I couldn’t see clearly. I slowed down and as I did so, less than a meter from me, a black Clio swooped down through the intersection, through the red light, exactly where I would have been if I hadn’t slowed down because I couldn’t see the lane clearly.

I don’t really know why I slowed down. I wasn’t supposed to: my green light was still on when I checked again. 999 times out of a 1000, its safe to cross, and I had right of way.

The man was driving maybe 40 km/h. Red light aside, most drivers feel these are low speeds. This is because a car crash at that speed typically amounts to material damage, i.e. little or no blood spilled.  But a 1100 kg vehicle hitting a body at that speed, without breaking…had he hit me, I would have been very lucky to come out of it without permanent consequences.

I could tell that he noticed me as he passed by: he was stunned as he realised what almost happened. The thing is, whatever you might think, it’s really not about him. I could have shouted my head off, or called the police, or even chased him and assaulted him for nearly killing me, but it wouldn’t have made me a bit safer the next day. Because the truth is, every car driver wilfully does the same: accepts the fact that it’s human nature to make serious mistakes given enough time and then sits behind the wheel every day nevertheless.

I have heard drivers talk of driving 80 through red lights because they were driving there for years and “the traffic light wasn’t there yesterday”, people driving drunk, or tired, or both, skidding across the road because they stubbornly held on to their ageing tyres, chanting “they’ll do for one more year” as they spent the money on something else. They’ll say, “it wasn’t my fault: the kid ran out of nowhere onto the road” – as if a small child is to blame because people choose to get around town in ridiculously dangerous vehicles. It’s ridiculous to think that in decades of driving, you, dear reader, will never make a mistake like one of these. In fact, it’s ridiculous to think you won’t make plenty of them. I did.

The problem is that you will shrug it off as just the way things are and sit behind the wheel as you did yesterday. Maybe you’re already behind the wheel, reading this during rush hour in a busy intersection, waiting for your turn to pass. You will shrug it off because, well, what else are you supposed to do? How else are you supposed to get around? So you’ll settle for “driving as safely as you can” and if anything happens (i.e., if you hurt or kill someone along the way), you’ll feel bad for a while, but will eventually move on.

Well, that right there is the problem. Your willingness to shrug it off like that, sacrificing somebody else’s safety for your convenience. It’s deplorable. It is irresponsible and callous beyond words.

Me? I just dodged living in any of a number of ugly parallel universes: lying in a dizzying mixture of pain and fear on the cold pavement as a small crowd gathers around me and someone calls an ambulance…or handicapped for the rest of my life…or simply dead. Instead, it’s still sunny outside and I still look forward to wrapping work up and enjoying the weekend with friends. Maybe sitting behind the computer, trying some recent ideas I had out. So I’m quite happy. The thing is, I’m still stuck in the universe with plenty of opportunities to end up in those ugly parallel ones. Thanks for that.


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