Thoughts by Richard Bleil
A day or two ago (as of the writing on this) there was a deadly crash in Texas. A pickup truck had crossed over the median striking a bus. The pickup driver was killed, as was the passenger. The driver of the bus along with six of the riders, all school kids on a golf team, were killed. Two (only two) of the bus passengers survived, although only barely and after a great deal of medical treatment.
It’s a tragedy. Probably eight families devastated by the news. An investigation revealed that the pickup truck had been driving on an emergency spare tire, one of the undersized ones rated for about fifty miles on the road and only at slower speeds. Because it was a different size from the other tires, it probably made the truck unstable to begin with, but the tire had apparently blown out causing the truck to drift. The accident occurred fairly late at night, so it was unlikely that they were driving to a garage, which is the only place a vehicle with one of those tires should be going.
The driver was thirteen.
In Texas, a fourteen-year-old is legal to drive under supervision of a responsible adult. The thirty-eight-year-old man with the child was not a responsible adult. I do not know if he was the boy’s father, uncle, friend or who he was, but I’m guessing that allowing a minor to drive illegally late at night, he was also probably encouraging the boy to drive fast and recklessly. An experience driver might have been aware of the possibility that the tire could blow out and had a chance to maintain control of the vehicle, but hopefully, would also know not to drive the vehicle except to a garage to get the regular tire repaired.
I sure hope it was fun.
People often forget that when they are driving a vehicle, they are handling a weapon responsible for about thirty-eight thousand deaths a year. This is more than five times the number of deaths caused by guns. Driving a vehicle is no different from handling a weapon, capable of death or injury to the driver, passengers and people outside of the vehicle. We try to put safety devices in them to mitigate this problem, and provide classes and driver’s licenses to ensure people know what they are doing and are responsible drivers, but there is nothing you can do about those who drive while under the influence, drive at excessive speeds or let thirteen-year-old kids drive trucks that are not fit for the road.
Defining “responsible” is kind of a trick as well. Surely, the Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg of South Dakota would be a responsible adult. That was before he drove distracted, with all four tires crossing the rumble strip of a highway where he struck a pedestrian in a fatal accident. He was also a responsible law-abiding citizen when he failed to report the accident, claiming he was unaware that it had happened despite investigators finding a pair of bloody glasses embedded in the windshield of the vehicle he was driving. Well, maybe it wasn’t his fault. Perhaps he was just on drugs. Maybe that’s why he’s still in office. Poor widdle attoiny gen’ral.
In 1986, I was struck from behind while at a stop light, the driver not seeing me (as she was fiddling with the radio) and striking me at roughly sixty miles an hour. I can tell you that car crashes are horrifying. Six cars and a truck were involved in my crash, and fortunately nobody was seriously injured, but to this day I suffer from PTSD triggered by people driving too closely behind me, or stopping at the last moment when I’m waiting for a light.
The first college where I taught was near a four-lane divided road with a cross street at the bottom. There was a large hill heading down to the street giving amazing view of the traffic light and any traffic on that cross street, and yet we had a student who crashed into an elderly woman’s car as she crossed the divide, with the right-of-way. Apparently, no drugs or alcohol was found in the student’s blood who struck her car and killed her. He was just driving way too fast and not paying attention. At my next college, a student was driving an old two-lane highway, crossed the median and, although the bus had moved off of the road and nearly into the ditch, he struck the tour bus severely injuring many of the elderly passengers, most of whom survived but were injured to the point of never being able to get out of the hospital again. This student was not drunk or on drugs. It has been postulated that, because he worked so late, he simply fell asleep at the wheel. We really don’t know because the top of his head was shaved off. As the director of a forensic lab, the first autopsy I witnessed was of a woman who slipped off of a slow-moving semi as she tried to climb under the tarp on top so her boyfriend, who she thought was abandoning her, couldn’t get away. The rear tire of the fully laden semi ran over her torso with so much pressure that her intestines were squeezed out of her body and ripped through the jeans she was wearing.
Folks, driving a vehicle is a serious action. Just a week ago I almost witnessed a pickup crash into a car as it blew through a flashing red light after 2 AM as if it wasn’t even there. Fortunately, the driver with the right of way was paying attention. And how common is it to see people driving recklessly when you are on the road? People speed, tailgate, weave and do so many stupid things as if they, and the people around them are bulletproof.
All while operating a weapon.