Where has all the decency gone?

At some point in the day, every single day, I find myself surrounded by people who are way too focused on themselves and the goals they have for the next 5 minutes that they completely ignore the people and environment around them.

I am talking about the people who SHOULD NEVER drive and talk on the phone, the people who drive 10 under the speed limit and block traffic, the people who do not use their turn signals, the list goes on and on and on.  You might have noticed that most of the examples in my list involve people in cars, this is because I have started to notice that as people shut the door and put the key into the ignition their brains shut off.

It seems like people look at driving around town the same way they look at driving a car in a video game. It isn’t real because it is outside and there are no consequences.  That is, until they kill someone or wreck their car because they were reaching for french fries.  There is this disconnect between actions and consequences that people just don’t seem to be able to connect in their heads.  What is amazing to me is how many parents will teach, then tell, then scream the facets of action/reaction or action/consequence, and then seemingly act like complete assholes on the road.  Are these people just so self absorbed that they don’t care about anyone or anything else on the road, or are they just that disconnected from reality?

I think that the solution to this issue is a simple and yet nearly impossible solution. The simple part is the following: “Think about how what you do effects the things in your immediate environment”.  The impossible part is to actually get people to do it.

As a kid, my friend Matt (yeah, same name, probably why we got along so well) and I were sitting on the curb in front of my dad’s house playing.  We decided that it would be cool to put the pointiest rock we could find in the middle of the street right where people’s tires would definitely be.  Then we decided that we would try to side-arm toss rocks at the tires and between the two we would pop one!  This was us in our consequence free environment, not thinking about the reality that someone is driving that car, that they have to PAY for those tires and the myriad of other things that could happen like if we dented a car or caused someone to swerve off the road into a tree.  We were so focused on tires and having fun.  Tires were just things on cars and cars were just cars, there was no human element to it at all for us. This is not to say that we were insensitive, we just didn’t think about it at all.  There was nothing in our lives up to that point that would have brought the reality of what we were doing to our attention.

Then someone realized what we were doing, stopped and got out of their car.  Immediately the human element presented itself, potential consequences rained down on us, and we were scared out of our minds.  We were asked where we lived, pointed behind us because we were so scared, and our parents were informed of what we were doing.  Groundings and yelling ensued. We instantly understood what we had done wrong.  It was not that we weren’t thinking, or that we consciously made the decision to ignore the fact of what we were doing.  We were just kids having fun.

The perception that my friend Matt and I had of the cars driving by is the same perception that I see everyday on my way to and from work and whenever I take road trips.  When we are in cars we have a tendency to worry about ourselves and the people in the car with us while we look at the other cars on the road as inanimate objects (despite the fact that they are moving) that have no feelings.  Then when something happens that endangers us or our loved ones in the car with us, we get mad at the other car.  On top of this, we act like the other cars on the road are there simply to be in the way and endanger our lives.

What we should do is realize that cars are not just hindrances along our way, but they are essentially the same thing as egg cartons carrying precious cargo. (Ok, even I think that is a silly metaphor, but it gets the point across).  There are REAL people in those cars, with beating hearts. People who are loved and who love other people.  Those people could potentially be the reason your next business deal goes well or the reason why your kid or spouse survives a terrible accident.  We need to pay attention to the fact that our rush to get to work, and the extremely dangerous decisions that we make when we are distracted or rushed are not only dangerous for us and some metal boxes.  We are risking other people’s lives with every move, every time we slam on our brakes, every time we choose to forget to use our turn signals, every time we choose to just change lanes without looking.  We forget the consequences of our decisions and the things that we choose not to decide on.  We forget that if we run someone into the barrier it is not funny like on Mario Kart and they just get set back on the road, those people who just hit the barrier are going to bleed and cry.

Yes, this is extreme.  Yes, some of the things I am saying are exaggerations of the statistical average of what normally happens on the road.  Screw that, I am pissed off. I want you and everyone you ever meet to know exactly what the hell it is I AM THINKING about when I am driving next to you on the road.  I am making decisions that take into account the fact that you are in the car and I am doing everything I can to make sure that your heart keeps beating, that you get to your destination in one piece, and that I was in no way the cause of anything adverse that happens to you while you are on the road.  I could be a dick, I could change lanes real fast and cut you off, but I don’t and I won’t because I realize that you are a person and deserve to be treated as such.

What can you do to give yourself and the other people around you a better chance on the road?

  • Use your turn signal BEFORE you want to change lanes when there are people around you, and not just one blink let the people next to you have a chance to react.  If there is no one who will be effected by you just changing lanes, you make your own judgment call on this.
  • If you see someone using their signal to indicate they would like permission to come into the lane:
    • Don’t speed up and try to pass them, unless this is your only safe option
    • Don’t sit in their blind spot, this is rude every second of every minute you are on the road
  • Give some space between you and the car in front of you
    • This gives you more time to react when the people in front of you do something stupid
    • This gives you less opportunity to get pissed when someone wants in your lane
    • In heavy traffic this means you don’t have to use your brakes as much, which saves you money on gas AND brakes
    • This gives you an opportunity to see further up the road and react to things before you get to them (especially if you are behind an SUV or truck)
  • Be aware of your surroundings
    • Those things next to you have people in them. Automated cars are not allowed on real roads yet, AFAIK.
    • Realizing that there are motorcycles nearby and making smart decisions about this will save their lives and keep you out of court and jail
    • Seeing kids playing on the side of the road makes you realize that kids do stupid things like chase balls into the street and get squashed by cars
  • Stop at stop signs, even when there is no one around
    • You get a second chance to assess the intersection, I have personally seen more accidents in intersections than anywhere else.  This makes me wary of them and the things that pop out as you are going through them.
  • Pay attention to the signs that are around you like Speed Limit, Stop Signs, Yields, even the exit signs for where you are going.
    • Get in the lane you need to be in, well in advance so you don’t have to rush to get over
    • If you are at what looks like a 4-way stop, there will be a stop signs on all four corners and usually a sign that says “all ways” or “4-way” under the stop sign. If those are not there, assuming they are will earn you a car in your front seat.
    • Speed Limits are there for a reason and everyone assumes that cars on that road will be going that speed. If you are not, you create a hazard for yourself and everyone else on the road. Heavy traffic dictates that you go the speed everyone else is going or the speed limit, which ever is safer.

Just drive smart, be responsible for everything you do, think about the people around you, and realize that when you smash into someone it will make you WAY later to the grocery store than that asshole who cut you off.

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