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September 3, 2014 / 8 Elul, 5774
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Smart Cars – Stupid Drivers

From time to time, I am asked where I get ideas for my articles. The answer is simple. Just from getting up in the morning and experiencing life. This week’s column is courtesy of a van driver who, after clearing the intersection, decided he made a mistake and started to go in reverse. Since he did not see anyone the first time he entered the intersection, he assumed that it was OK to re-enter the intersection – backwards. A quick glance in the rear-view mirror would just be a waste of time.

I had made the reasonable assumption that most vehicles go forward and that it was safe for me to cross. After all, the van was headed down the street and the crossing area was clear. Fortunately, I hesitated because this was not the first time I saw cars headed in one direction, that suddenly reverse and back up into the intersection. As far as they’re concerned, stop signs or red lights at the intersection don’t apply if your vehicle is moving backwards.

Sure enough, the backward moving van occupied the space that I would have been occupying – had I stepped off the curb. The driver’s sheepish grin and shrug in answer to my furious glare of “what were you thinking?” probably ended the matter for him – but not for me.

His kind of thoughtless and thought-less driving has become the norm in our cities and towns.

It’s amazing to me that as cars get “smarter” – equipped with navigation systems, tires that adjust to various weather conditions, seat belts that automatically belt you in when the ignition is turned on, etc. – drivers get stupider and more careless.

I have no doubt that those who are reading this article have had their share of “close calls” due to someone’s negligent or careless driving. Tragically, we all know people who weren’t spared and whose lives were prematurely ended by someone else’s mistake. Often these “mistakes” were avoidable and the result of a lack of consideration and a lack of considering crucial factors such as weather conditions, location, rules of the road, construction, etc.

Your actions as you drive- or lack of them – can have a life-altering effect not just on you, but also on other human beings. If the Torah exhorts us to be cautious and not put ourselves in jeopardy due to risky behavior. How much more does that apply in terms of being careful when other people’s lives are at stake!

Years ago, my son Moshe barely avoided being run over by a neighbor (a man with small children at home) who was racing backward down our one way street in his truck. Moshe looked only in the direction in which he was used to looking, as he crossed to the other side – never dreaming that a vehicle was flying the wrong way up the street. Hashem in His mercy had me go out of the house and onto the porch at the right time to utter a warning. I truly believe the donation I had given earlier in the day to a chesed organization for Rosh Hashana is what saved him.

When I see what a fine young man he has become, the positive effect he has had on so many people, I am sickened by the thought of how close we came to losing him so needlessly.

How true this must be for every son/daughter/spouse/parent killed!

Speaking of children, I have seen women from our community, car-pool – their vans full of little ones, both theirs and others’ – chatting on cell phones, while making left turns in heavy traffic, head twisted sideways anchoring the phone onto their shoulder. Turning safely requires a driver’s undivided, focused attention. How can they be so reckless when entrusted with a precious cargo of young lives?

Then there are the drivers who have face-to-face conversations with their passengers, instead of looking straight ahead at the road. Where is it written that while driving, it is impolite to simply talk to the person sitting next to you without looking at them too? The road may be clear, but G-d forbid, if a child suddenly darts out onto the road, or there is debris or a broken tree branch that flies into the car’s path, the lack of attention, even if only for a split second, can have tragic consequences. This is true for people who are busy changing radio stations, getting a snack out of a bag, or taking a swig out of a bottle of soda. Can’t you wait till you get to a red light?

And then there are the impaired drivers – unfit to drive because they drank too much, are on drugs (both legal and illegal), are seriously sleep-deprived, have poor eyesight, or who have compromised cognitive abilities due to old age, disease or medication.

They willfully get into a car because they are in denial about their current inability to negotiate a vehicle – a denial fueled by self-centered behavior and often a blatant disregard for anybody else’s well being.

I am sure Hashem has a special place in gehennom (Hell) for serial drunk drivers who, despite causing immeasurable injury and grief to their victims, continue to drink and drive without shame or remorse, free to operate a lethal weapon. All this, because of lax laws and sympathetic judges, juries and lawyers who, because they too enjoy their alcoholic drinks feel, “there but for the grace of G-d go I.”

Since being a pedestrian these days puts me at risk, I’m tempted to bentch goimel (the prayer for surviving a dangerous situation) at night along with my recitation of Shema. At the very least, when I light my Shabbat candles, I pray that Hashem protect me, those I love and Klal Yisrael, in general, from the reckless behavior of others.

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