By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
I witnessed a four-car accident this week. Moments before it happened, I knew what was coming. A driver wanting to turn left raced through a light turning red.
Another driver coming in the opposite direction jumped a light before it turned green. They collided. Two cars following much too closely plowed into the mess. Everyone was all right, but a major intersection was blocked and lots of people were ready to explode.
This scenario plays out all over the country every day. Impatient, rude, distracted drivers are increasingly problematic. Drunk or sleep-deprived drivers cause a tremendous number of accidents, but 66 percent of traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving.
Nearly everyone is in a hurry today, even in a place like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I suppose at 9 A.M. many people are still trying to get to work, but a traffic accident will really make you late.
Research has shown that aggressive, angry drivers have distorted depth perception. This is worrisome, since traffic congestion is not about to ease and most people drive much too close to the car ahead. Add a little rain, fog, snow, or ice, and an accident is inevitable.
Halloween is on October 31, with Thanksgiving and Christmas travel soon to follow. Since an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure, there are a few tips we can all use to stay safe:
- Get in touch with reality. Many people underestimate how long it takes to go anywhere. Stress levels ease when you routinely leave an extra 15-20 minutes to reach your destination — more if you drive in a large city.
- Leave more space between your car and the one ahead. The laws of physics work whether we like them or not. Sooner or later someone will have to stop unexpectedly.
- Don’t try to run a stoplight. At some point, it will not go well for you.
- Don’t be rude on the road. Cutting off another driver, yelling, making vulgar gestures, or otherwise being aggressive will not help.
- Stay focused on driving. Unless you’re driving across Wyoming or west Texas, you must have your wits about you at every moment. Even talking on the phone or sipping coffee can be dangerous. Texting is flat out foolish. Don’t do it.
- Be considerate of other drivers. We’ve all struggled to get in the correct lane on a congested highway. Unless it’s simply unsafe, let another driver merge ahead of you and never fuss at someone for being gracious to others.
Every person today is dealing with stress, and most of us have made an occasional error on the road. Perhaps we could all calm down, slow down, and live to enjoy the holidays.