Sometime ago, I saw a video getting shared around the internet. It was a Public Service Announcement about careful driving. It showed two vehicles. One was approaching an intersection and preparing to turn left. The other was coming down the road the first vehicle was preparing to turn onto. It was apparent that they were about to collide. The video went into slow motion and the cars stopped.
The drivers then got out of the car and approached each other, looking distressed. The driver in the car about to be hit began to plead with the other driver. “Please. I didn’t see you. I’m sorry I pulled out. Please, don’t hit me.”
The other driver looked apologetic. “I’m sorry. I can’t stop. I just can’t.”
The second driver looked back to his vehicle. “Please. I have my son in the car.” He ran his hands through his hair in despair.
“I’m sorry. I just can’t. I’m going too fast. I can’t stop. I’m sorry.”
The grief on the first driver’s face was palpable. The sorrow and regret on the other equally so. They walked slowly back to their vehicles and looked at each other.
And then the pace resumed.
The video ended with a warning to slow down: “Other people make mistakes.”
It was chilling to watch.
When I’ve shared my story, people have asked me if the other driver was on his cell phone. They assumed he probably was. I honestly don’t know. I know he didn’t see me in enough time to brake. Was that because I pulled out too suddenly? Was it because he was texting? Looking down at his radio? Gazing at something on the side of the road? Watching for vehicles on the crossing side road? Daydreaming? Talking to a passenger? I don’t know.
From a cold analysis perspective, it doesn’t matter. The wreck was my fault. I tried to cross traffic without looking to make sure it was clear. If I had looked, the accident wouldn’t have happened. I was doing the wrong. Legally. But if he had seen me sooner, the accident wouldn’t have happened either. I made a mistake while someone else happened to not be paying attention to me (and possibly traveling too fast).
For a split second before impact, I saw him coming. I saw his vehicle too close. I think I saw his panicked face. In that split second, we had the conversation in the video. “Please, no, I didn’t look.”… “I’m sorry, I can’t stop.”… “Please, no. My kids are in the car.”…”I can’t. I’m driving too fast. I’m sorry.”
You might be able to drive 10 mph over the speed limit day in and day out and never have a problem. But one of these days, you’ll encounter someone making a mistake. A mom done watching a turtle on the road. A teen who forgot there was a stop sign. An older person who got confused about where she was. Who knows? It’ll be someone. And in that moment, you have the power to exact the consequence for that mistake or bestow grace. It all depends on how fast you are going and how much you are paying attention.
We drive for the 99% cases. We drive on the assumption that everything will go exactly like it’s supposed to. We need to drive for the 1%. We need to be prepared for that other person making a mistake. Because they will.
So slow down. And feel free to cuss and shoot the bird as you avoid the accident with the idiot that just screwed up. I can’t speak for all the other idiots (yourself included), but I will gladly take the angry face and epithets over the crumpled metal and exchange of insurance information. Any day.
Now if I can just remember to take my own advice as my close call fades into memory.