OK, now that I have your attention, let me explain why it is not a good idea to think in terms of safe or not safe when referring to driving, roads, or anything having to do with our mobility.
The word “safe” by itself connotes that there is little, if any, potential for harm. However, if we begin to think in terms of “safer” instead, then we can begin to understand why transportation engineers and others involved in the design and construction of our roadway network know that, despite our best efforts, we cannot guarantee that our final product will be “safe”.
We can design a number of safeguards into our roadway system, including guard rails, barrier walls, smooth curves, long sight distances, etc. but we cannot ever guarantee that the sum of these design elements will preclude the unthinkable from happening to any of us. There are just too many variables.
Take, for instance, the variety of vehicles that are vying for space on any given roadway. That variety may include two-, four-, eight-, ten-, sixteen- and eighteen- wheeled vehicles – or more – in any given segment of roadway, including city streets. Add to that the potential for mechanical failure of any single part of any single vehicle (without including “driver error” – more on that later), and you can begin to see that no matter the degree of care exercised by the design professional, anything could happen that is well beyond his or her control.
What about the external driving environment? Are there intersecting streets and driveways closely spaced? Is the terrain level or mountainous (yes, there are hills and mountains outside of southwest Florida)? Are there signs, billboards, objects in the road, other distractions present that are not of the drivers’ making?
Finally, what about the driver? Are you listening to the radio? Are you chastising your children – or admiring their good behavior? Are you eating, drinking (non-alcoholic), putting on makeup, Reading, texting, using a cell phone, etc., etc., etc. Are doing anything except keeping your mind, eyes, hands, feet and entire being focused on the driving task? If you are doing anything other than “driving” you are contributing to the problem and are risking becoming part of the “less safe” rather than the “more safe.”
This morning’s NDN ran a front page article, actually two articles, dealing with roadway safety. The crux of one of these articles was that we lose a small city every year – about 40,000 per year over the last decade – to roadway crashes that take lives. Josef Stalin once said that when a man dies, that is a tragedy, but when 1000 men die, that is a statistic. We see the statistics and collectively rail against the unsafe, but when we kill ourselves one at a time, only those close to us mourn.
The other article went on to tell us that since the opening of the “new” I-75, there has been a detectable drop in the number of incidents – crashes, traffic tie-ups, congestion, etc. – on that roadway. This is attributed to the added lanes and the feeling of many drivers that they are now “safer.”
So, what is “safe” and what is “safer?” There is no pat answer. There is, however, an opportunity for all of us to realize that our individual actions affect everyone around us whether we are in our vehicles or not. Remember that old Disney cartoon where Goofy was Mr. Walker when he was not driving and Mr. Wheeler when he was? He became a Jekyll and Hyde character –one that many of us emulate when we switch from Walker to Wheeler. We cross against the pedestrian signals, we ignore bicyclists, we bicycle as if we owned the road and ignore pedestrians, we “coast” through a red light on right; we do all sorts of things that put ourselves and all around us in constant danger.
Are you Walker, Wheeler, a little bit of both? Do you want to be “safe?” Think about how you use the roadway network, including the sidewalks.
Being safer is only a matter of using your head as well as the rest of your anatomy while driving or walking. Everyone’s safety depends on you. So does yours.