Blue Byline

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Finding meaning in a senseless tragedy

Post by Brian O'Neill on Sep. 12, 2012 at 9:17 pm with 4 Comments »
September 13, 2012 12:32 pm

Every year at the Puyallup Fair is the same for my family. After we finish eating scones, watching jugglers, and nodding off at the hypnotist show, my wife drags us to the State Patrol exhibit at the Puyallup Fair where the display is always the same – the twisted wreckage of a severe car crash.

Along with the car, the exhibit includes a poster board printed with the driver’s biography (or epitaph) and some background on the crash. The visual draws in quiet onlookers who gain a healthier respect for the laws of physics. The story provides them with a few simple lessons: don’t speed; don’t drive when you’re tired; and don’t drink and drive.

This exhibit is no fun at all, but my wife is clearly trying to make a lasting impression on our sons, both of whom drive. For myself, I usually wander around taking in the sights. Unlike most people, I have rolled up on many horrific collisions as a patrol officer.

This year, however, I did stop and take a look. I almost wished I hadn’t.

News Tribune file photo

The car was a small black sedan, so crumpled I could not identify the model. The point of impact was the driver’s door, which had literally imploded. It did not look survivable.

I scanned the sign board for details of the crash, and read that the driver of the wrecked car was a young woman in her 20′s. She was not speeding, she was not sleeping and she was not drunk – she was texting when her car crossed the center line and struck an oncoming truck.

She died, like more and more people these days, with a cell phone in her hand behind the wheel of a car.

One can only imagine the despair that ripped through this family following the fatal collision. Reconciling such a tragic loss to something as meaningless as texting would only make it more difficult. Yet her parents, who poured out their grief and love for their wonderful, caring daughter onto the sign, were also brutally honest about their daughter’s mistake in picking up her phone while she was driving.

The purpose of all this – the useless hulk of metal, the sign filled with pictures, stories and details of a young woman’s last day in this life – is obvious and vital. It could change someone’s mind about texting behind the wheel, and it could save a life. Might as well start with me.

Seriously. I am ashamed to admit it, but texting while driving is my dirty little secret. I won’t try and justify my actions (sometimes I do in my own head) because there is no excuse. That is especially true for the father of two teenagers armed with two cell phones, one driver’s license and one driver’s permit.

I also know I’m not the only adult driver abusing a cell phone. Despite the new state law prohibiting such use, it seems like more people are talking or texting on the phone these days. They roll over center lines and fog lines, throw on the brakes in surprise, and generally drive like they are not paying attention – which of course they are not.

We would all like to think that when we make a call or text behind the wheel that we are still in perfect control. Who are we kidding?All the statistics and anecdotal evidence, the smashed cars and shattered lives all lead us to one inescapable conclusion. If you will pardon the hypocrisy, we all need to put down the phone and just drive.

Do it for your family. Do it for yourself. And do it so the death of a young woman will not have been in vain.

Leave a comment Comments → 4
  1. claudiabranham says:

    Tuesday morning the white car, driven by a young woman, along side of us on Hwy 512 was texting while in heavy traffic. The car was going from one side of the lane to the other. I slowed down so she wouldn’t side swipe me; I held my breath as it appeared she was drifting off to the unpaved portion into the barrior, then back into her lane. What does one do to get their attention??? This is a common occurrence.

  2. leehallfae says:

    Dear Brian O’Neill:

    While I will concede that your article is well intentioned (and well written) here is my take: People are comfortable with a certain level of risk taking. No matter how many statutes, etc., are enacted, to try to protect people’s lives, they ARE going to adjust their actions accordingly.

    My guess is that when driving is no longer needed, roads having been fitted with magnets that push/pull move said vehicles, there will still be someone who finds a way to add the level of danger that is necessary. In the insurance industry, it is called Moral Hazard. And nothing will change humans’ need to take risks.

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for the comments, Claudia and Lindsay. This story does confirm that people, by nature, will always find a way to abuse any new toy until someone gets hurt. Still, there are people who, with sufficient knowledge or warning, might decide to change their behavior and thus avoid a terrible outcome.

    Though my inner cynic says don’t bother, I’m not ready to give up on humans yet.

  4. Brian,

    There is no meaning in a senseless tragedy. Incomplete thinking, not enough recognition of the situation, and lack of forethought lead to these issues.
    I have rolled onto too many sites in the mid 80′s as an EMT.

    There really is no valid explanation for this behavior, except that most people do not believe that it will happen to them.

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