I don’t remember how old I was when it happened; it must have been before high school. A friend of my parents, Mrs. Dickinson, was killed in a car accident. She was a school teacher in Sabattus and she was coming home to Lisbon Falls in a Volkswagen Beetle, as I recall.
Additional details of the accident are fuzzy, but it was at an intersection on the road I live on today, maybe a mile or so from here. There’s a blinking light at that intersection now and every time I drive through it, I think of Mrs. Dickinson. I think of her two sons, who were the same ages as my brother and me, and what it was like to grow up without a loving mother.
People have been getting killed on this road for a long time; I would need to do some additional research to provide the full history. Luckily, some bright civil engineer had an idea to redesign the road and straighten it out as much as possible without ripping out the farm houses which have been on this ridge longer than the automobile. We lost quite a few old trees, but the road is smoother, straighter, and wider now. Motorists can drive like bats out of hell and fly through the intersection where Mrs. Dickinson was killed.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been fighting a head cold this week or maybe it’s because I’ve become an old lady as I approach fifty, but sometimes I just don’t understand what the rush is all about. Cough, cough, sniffle, sniffle.
Last night, I was driving home from visiting my parents. My Jeep started the slow climb up my road and I gave it a little gas so I would be going the marked speed limit. The angry headlights in my rearview mirror got closer and closer. I inched my speed to five miles over the posted speed limit, in a concession to my hurried follower, but this was not enough. As I got to the top of road, at one of its newly straightened sections, the car barreled by me and disappeared into the night. I could smell the exhaust as I heard its engine winding away.
Reggie Black and I have had many discussions about the automobile. At one time, I questioned whether there was something about moving against gravity which might cause bodily damage at a cellular level. Could driving in a speeding car cause disease? Maybe the human body wasn’t meant to travel at speeds faster than a foot or a hoof could move. Reggie said he didn’t think that was possible, although we discussed the potential carcinogenic substances in vehicle exhaust.
I’ve thought about this “need for speed” I see all around me as I putter about town in my infrequent travels. The only hypothesis I have is that the ability to go faster than footsteps changes how men and women perceive their own physical power. Being able to press a pedal and go 100 miles per hour is a rush. There has been a lot written about “aggressive driving” and “road rage.” A new “naturalistic observation” method promises to provide more and better data to help experts make roadways peaceful once again.
I don’t want to be a hypocrite; I appreciate getting into my car and getting somewhere quickly. I just wonder if the notion that experts can tweak roads and drivers to make a safer world is really the answer. Maybe cars make us violent, encouraging us to defy nature at every turn and press of the pedal.
This wasn’t my intended “Little Old Lady” post for today. I was going to write a funny post, invoking a different aspect of my aging self. I’ll do that next week.
Y’all come back for a Little Old Lady Knock Knock Joke, okay? Until then, please drive safely.
Americans love their automobiles. Cars and Happy Motoring symbolize this country and its citizens; one car, one person has been our transportation model for 50-60 years. Speed, conquering the open spaces, and traffic fatalities are an American way of life.
I remember when Mrs. Dickinson was killed and I never drive through that intersection without thinking about it.
Automobile deaths in this country have consistently stayed above 30,000, peaking at 54,589 in 1972. Last year, traffic deaths sat at 34,080, an increase of 5.3 percent after six years of declines. Most of these could be avoided, as they are attributable to driver error. Cars and carnage go together and there has been a tremendous number of deaths since statistics have been compiled. No one bats an eye about it.
Google is attempting to address this and perhaps change the landscape (literally) with a prototype for a self-driving car. There is a fascinating New Yorker article by Burkhard Bilger about the work and research to launch a car that would drive itself. The article delves into the myriad issues and potential snares, but it also shows how this might change the way Americans travel.
Interestingly, the share of people in their teens, 20s and 30s with driver’s licenses has been dropping significantly. I’m not sure why this is. Some suggest that getting a driver’s license is no longer the teenage rite of passage it once was.
Researchers are at counterpoints regarding the trends. One camp says the changes are almost entirely linked to the economy. In a few years, when the economy recovers, they believe driving will probably bounce back. Others believe this could be long-term structural change taking place, as younger people view the automobile differently than our generation and our parents’ generation did. This will be interesting to follow.
Obviously, we have a family member in Mark, who doesn’t own a car, runs to work, and uses public transportation. What would happen if more of us were able to get rid of our cars?
I wonder, statistically, what the break down of “young’uns” without licenses has to do with them staying in college longer, prolonging job entry due to a lack of jobs, etc. There is no economic incentive for car manufacturers to market vehicles to them.
I’d take some additional rail service to a driver-less car any day.
I never personally met her, I don’t recall if I did. But I knew and very much liked both of her boys ( and still do) and I never fail to think of her whenever I go through that intersection.