Friday, March 25, 2011
S'no Good Driving Badly
DAY 17 OF 46
This past Tuesday, a young father in Maine died when his Honda Civic wiped out on a snowy road in front of a full-sized GMC pickup truck coming from the opposite direction.
Just yesterday, 70 vehicles were involved in one of the largest chain-reaction multi-vehicle wrecks ever in the tiny, frozen country of Finland. Although fortunately, no fatalities were reported, several people were hospitalized.
Now, would you please glance at your calendar and tell me what month this is?
These represent just two incidents this week - in the waning days of winter - of people who live in northern climes being involved in serious accidents because of winter weather conditions.
Maybe this isn't really headline news for most people, but both of these crashes incontrovertibly point to one sobering fact: even at the tail-end of a long, snowy season of cold winds, icy roads, and treacherous conditions, it doesn't matter if you're an American from Maine or a Finn in Europe, dangerous driving can still trump safe driving. And months of conditioning by driving to accommodate specific sub-freezing hazards still don't matter.
When my family lived in Upstate New York, I remember how bad the roads used to get during a winter storm. Even with snow tires and tire chains, my parents would sometimes drive so slowly that you could legitimately wonder if we would ever get to our destination before the first Spring thaw.
And I remember being so disgusted with snow and ice one Spring that my brother and I got the snow shovels and went to work on the back yard, digging down to clear a patch of grass. Both to check and make sure we still had a lawn, and also to remind ourselves what it looked like!
I'm not the smartest or wisest person on the planet, and my impatience can still get the better of me in traffic. But one of the things I simply can't understand is the incessant drumbeat of weather-related accidents even at the tail-end of winter in parts of the world where driving in the precipitation of the season should be second-nature.
One of my mother's cousins actually knows the family of the guy in Maine who lost control of his Honda Tuesday. The deceased comes from several generations of hard-working native Mainers. His widow works as a secretary at a local school, and his father actually used to work summers on my Uncle Arthur's farm years ago. You'd think winter driving skills would be second-nature to these folks.
Look But Don't Learn
Even though a lot of us don't bother to read stories about highway accidents anymore, plenty of people still cause massive traffic jams to gawk as they drive past accident scenes. If viewing the raw wreckage of other peoples' misfortune would actually convince some drivers to change their road habits, then I would consider the time we spend stuck in gridlock accommodating rubberneckers well spent. But unfortunately, bad wrecks are like freak shows: oddly entertaining, but rarely teachable moments.
Every fall - since Finland starts their winters usually before Halloween - a cousin there will e-mail me with news of his country's first weather-related accidents of the season. It seems that it's an annual event for Finns to be caught flat-footed at the first snow, having forgotten everything they were ever supposed to have learned about driving on ice, snow, and sleet. Since my cousin often walks or bicycles to work, and isn't dependant on his car like Americans are, he finds it rather comical when his countrymen express such stupid driving behavior in one of the most wintry places on Earth.
Granted, not every person in the snowbelt wrecks out in bad weather. I don't recall my parents ever getting into wintertime accidents when we lived in New York State. It's kinda like my octogenarian aunt who's lived in Brooklyn all her life and never been mugged or had her apartment broken into, even though muggings and burglaries are staples of Big Apple life. But it's a much grander claim to have been spared personal crimes, since there's only so much you can do to protect yourself and your home.
With all due respect, isn't wrecking out in the snow in March a particularly senseless way to go? There's so much more you can do to prevent killing yourself while driving on snow. All it takes is a little slower speed, a little more caution, and a little less bravado, and chances can improve exponentially that you'll get to your destination safely. Maybe a little late, unfortunately, but safely.
After all, we're never late to our own funeral, are we?