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Wangersky: You behind the wheel


Hello, car-in-my-lane, wandering as if in a daydream, back and forth as if lanes were their own streams of consciousness.

Hello, car-on-my-bumper, heavy metal extension of your driver’s personality, using tonnes of metal to make a point of your driver’s contempt that, even at or slightly above the speed limit, I’m not going fast enough.

“It all happened so suddenly” — I’ve heard that more times than I care to count, coming on accident scenes as I used to as a volunteer firefighter.

The accident is sudden, but the cause? Rarely. Many accidents are months in the making. Just as young drivers crash cars because of inexperience, many of the rest of us crash because of our own bad habits, bad habits that build on themselves because the first few times we found ourselves too close to the car in front or taking a turn too fast, there were no consequences.

And sure, things have gotten better, at least from a safety engineering point of view.

Your car is different, but you are not. Yes, there are better safety systems — front airbags, side airbags, seatbelt tensioners — but you?

You are still the same soft tissue and bone that you always were, that we all are, no better prepared physically for the high-G corkscrew spin of a highway rollover or the sudden stop of a collision. The equation is a simple one: Newton’s second law — force times mass equals acceleration. Your car comes to a sudden stop at 120 kilometres an hour never forget how fast you are going when your vehicle stops and you — especially unrestrained, unseatbelted you — continue moving until you reach something solid enough to stop you. Equations deconstructed. You are the mass and the acceleration — get ready for what the force will do.

I’ve seen you broken at the ankle and speared with things as innocuous as the keys on the keychain in your ignition. I’ve cut steering wheels free to get you out of the driver’s seat. I’ve immobilized you with neck collars and on backboards, counting in the gravel the number of times your car pitch-poled or barrel-rolled.

I’ve held back and stopped your running girlfriend as she recognized your overturned car and tried to reach you, while the paramedics cut off your shirt in the ditch and the road was shiny with radiator fluid and gasoline.

Go ahead and push me, if that helps to calm you, if that vents a little of your steam. I won’t go faster, even though I’m aware of the complex physics of what can happen if two objects, both at 100 km/h, clip or touch each other.

When we reach a safe passing zone, I’ll let you pass, I’ll even make clear room for you to pass. If it ever looks like a line of impatient cars is building up behind me, I’ll find a place to pull over safely and let them all pass.

And should I come upon you off the road and upside-down, I’ll stop to help the same way I always have, to do what I can, absolutely everything I can, even without the most basic equipment.

Only later on will I shake my head at the waste — at how, for the want of a few short minutes, you confused your power with the much greater power of what it is that you drive. Would you play so carelessly, so thoughtlessly, with a running table saw? Probably not. Yet your car has a far greater power for speed, and for careless and massive destruction.

Don’t make the mistake that your car is an extension of you or a sign of your power.

You are, I hope, at the very least, the thinking part of the conveyance.

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@tc.tc — Twitter: @Wangersky.

Hello, car-on-my-bumper, heavy metal extension of your driver’s personality, using tonnes of metal to make a point of your driver’s contempt that, even at or slightly above the speed limit, I’m not going fast enough.

“It all happened so suddenly” — I’ve heard that more times than I care to count, coming on accident scenes as I used to as a volunteer firefighter.

The accident is sudden, but the cause? Rarely. Many accidents are months in the making. Just as young drivers crash cars because of inexperience, many of the rest of us crash because of our own bad habits, bad habits that build on themselves because the first few times we found ourselves too close to the car in front or taking a turn too fast, there were no consequences.

And sure, things have gotten better, at least from a safety engineering point of view.

Your car is different, but you are not. Yes, there are better safety systems — front airbags, side airbags, seatbelt tensioners — but you?

You are still the same soft tissue and bone that you always were, that we all are, no better prepared physically for the high-G corkscrew spin of a highway rollover or the sudden stop of a collision. The equation is a simple one: Newton’s second law — force times mass equals acceleration. Your car comes to a sudden stop at 120 kilometres an hour never forget how fast you are going when your vehicle stops and you — especially unrestrained, unseatbelted you — continue moving until you reach something solid enough to stop you. Equations deconstructed. You are the mass and the acceleration — get ready for what the force will do.

I’ve seen you broken at the ankle and speared with things as innocuous as the keys on the keychain in your ignition. I’ve cut steering wheels free to get you out of the driver’s seat. I’ve immobilized you with neck collars and on backboards, counting in the gravel the number of times your car pitch-poled or barrel-rolled.

I’ve held back and stopped your running girlfriend as she recognized your overturned car and tried to reach you, while the paramedics cut off your shirt in the ditch and the road was shiny with radiator fluid and gasoline.

Go ahead and push me, if that helps to calm you, if that vents a little of your steam. I won’t go faster, even though I’m aware of the complex physics of what can happen if two objects, both at 100 km/h, clip or touch each other.

When we reach a safe passing zone, I’ll let you pass, I’ll even make clear room for you to pass. If it ever looks like a line of impatient cars is building up behind me, I’ll find a place to pull over safely and let them all pass.

And should I come upon you off the road and upside-down, I’ll stop to help the same way I always have, to do what I can, absolutely everything I can, even without the most basic equipment.

Only later on will I shake my head at the waste — at how, for the want of a few short minutes, you confused your power with the much greater power of what it is that you drive. Would you play so carelessly, so thoughtlessly, with a running table saw? Probably not. Yet your car has a far greater power for speed, and for careless and massive destruction.

Don’t make the mistake that your car is an extension of you or a sign of your power.

You are, I hope, at the very least, the thinking part of the conveyance.

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@tc.tc — Twitter: @Wangersky.

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