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ABOUT DRIVING IN THE REAL WORLD

Driving in the Real WorldTM is currently a blog about driving safely and efficiently in the real world. Many driver's education programs, especially in the United States, do not adequately train people to properly handle the complex challenges of everyday driving. DITRWTM offers tips, techniques, and reflections on driving that will improve your on-the-road awareness and may even save your life. In future months, this blog will become part of a much larger website that will feature exciting apps, games, community forums, and a whole new way to learn about street driving.

My hope is to make our roads safer by making it socially unacceptable to be a bad driver. We need to rethink how we drive, how we teach it in America, and make safety and cooperation a far higher priority, but in fun, enjoyable, and practical ways. And many people don't realize this, but what makes you a better driver also improves you in many other parts of life.

Thank you for visiting. I invite readers to share their own experiences and reflections on driving, to suggest ideas for my upcoming book on the subject, and to follow me on Twitter (@DrivingReal).

—Mi Ae

 

« New Year’s Resolution: Drive Smarter | Main | What Makes a Good and Bad Driver »
Friday
May112012

Rage Unleashed

The flowers placed by the Ramp Metered Ahead When Flashing sign near the onramp still haven’t wilted yet. Day after day, their silk petals flutter in the rain, wind, and sun, as out of place as a kitten on an ice skating rink. Every time I see them, I inhale deeply for a man who no longer can.

Almost ten months ago, this man was driving his silver BMW M3 sedan westbound in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland on a beautiful summer day. A famous Google software engineer who had just celebrated his 10th wedding anniversary, he was returning home from Costco when a black Hyundai SUV hurtled from out of nowhere and slammed into his car. He died instantly.

I came upon the accident scene perhaps about a half hour after it happened. I was on a routine trip to pick up my dad and we were on our way to downtown Kirkland, but the road was blocked, forcing us to enter the freeway onramp. Weaving through the disorienting maze of emergency vehicles, flares, and police officers waving the crawling traffic by, I suddenly found myself about five feet from the silver M3.

It was mangled so badly that its driver side was smashed clear into the passenger area and the whole car was squished to less than half its original width. My heart sank. My first thought was that no driver could have possibly survived that kind of impact. My second thought was what kind of speed had to be attained to inflict that much damage, and how? The 30-mph speed limit of the surrounding streets made this improbable, even taking into account normal traffic fluctuations. 

The Washington State Patrol later determined that the SUV driver had been traveling southbound on the freeway when he perceived that another driver cut him off. Fueled by a blood alcohol level four times the legal limit, the Hyundai driver flew into a rage and started pursuing the vehicle. He exited the freeway on the eastbound 85th St offramp at high speed, lost control around a corner, crossed three eastbound lanes, hit a raised median, rolled his vehicle, and sailed across all the westbound lanes before slamming into the top of the BMW.

The drunk driver walked away from the SUV. The dead man left behind a devoted wife and two young children. The person being pursued by the drunk driver continued on the freeway and likely never even knew what happened.

Seeing the BMW shook me up terribly the rest of the day—it was so clearly a case of being literally at the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn’t until the next day that it dawned on me that I had been running about 15 minutes late that day, all day. I’d been a little irritated at my tardiness when I picked up my dad, having come down southbound on the freeway, not my usual route but necessary that day because of an errand. I had exited eastbound on that same offramp to 85th Street, only to return westbound with my father in the front passenger seat 10 minutes later. If I’d been running on time—my usual time—the Hyundai would have been 10 minutes behind me on the freeway, and we could have been that BMW. 

No words can describe the unfairness of fate, when reckless impulse, inattention, alcohol, and road rage intersect in a single horrifying moment. Still, the silk flowers brave the ceaseless elements, their presence a reminder of randomness.

 

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Reader Comments (3)

Very moving.

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Sargeant

As the survivor of a head-on collision, I am frequently reminded of the pure luck that is part of my survival. Since then, I have found myself sometimes looking into the eyes of passing driver on the highway, during that instant when you can see each other clearly. I know that those brief moments can change lives, and that each person you see is someone's daughter, wife, son, lover, neighbor, co-worker. We all have the power to save each other's lives when we are careful, sane, attentive and patient when we drive.

May 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTrudy Balcom

Hi Mi Ae. I finally had a chance to check this out.

This is a spectacular cause that you are taking on, and I recall when you told me about this incident some time back. It's amazing how much society takes for granted car safety (or the lack of), and that there's this inherent perception that our lives are out of our hands and placed into this specter of randomness.

Like you, I believe in the power of information. Tough laws aren't enough to sway bad behavior, as you seem to suggest. Car safety technology has improved with anti-lock brakes and airbags and the like, however that's a last resort measure. While it addresses improved safety, it doesn't deter bad behavior....that's where the education comes in, as you are suggesting.

Intriguing stuff....terrifying and intriguing all at once. I can relate to your experience of running 15 minutes late, and fate, through some of my own experience -- but I'll save that for another time.

Again, great cause. I'll be back again soon with more thoughts on other posts.

August 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Sweum

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