On Friday I spent a good chunk of the day driving to Cedar City to see my son's future wife graduate from Southern Utah State University. For about half the distance the rain came down, the sleet fell and even some snow landed on the vehicle. The weather was almost blinding through Beaver and on into Enoch.
On Saturday night I drove back. The weather was cloudy and threatening at times, while at others it was clear and beautiful.
What I found during both those drives was not something I should be surprised by in all my years of transversing the country on business, but it did. It was the fact that the speed of the vehicles on the road changed little from snow to rain to shine. People drove just as fast on the way to Cedar as I observed them to drive on the way back.
While this is probably nothing new to almost anyone reading this column, I was struck by the fact that on Friday evening while I was driving to La Verkin to stay at my mother-in-laws for the night almost everyone else seemed to be going 90 despite the fact it was pitch dark and water kept flowing in front of my face on the windshield from a driving rain.
What is it that makes people take their life and the life of others so lightly? As a tow truck driver in the early 70's and then a reporter here at the newspaper for the last five years, I have seen my share of death and destruction due to auto accidents. Over the years the increased use of restraints and the manufacture of safer cars have made everything much better. Thirty years ago we killed about 50,000 people a year on the roads in this country. Today we kill about the same. Traffic during that period of time has doubled and even tripled in some areas, so something good has come of the extra cost safety has added to a new vehicle. The total could be 150,000 without the safety awareness and gadgets. But 50,000 is still too many.
Talk to any peace officer who investigates accidents and he or she will tell you not wearing seat belts and speed are the two killers. Both are exacerbated by drunk and drowsey drivers, but those two things are what mostly kill people.
When an accident happens in the county or anywhere along Highway 6 and this newpaper covers it we debate about which photos to print in the newspaper. There are some in our community who don't want to see an accident in the paper at all. Others would like to see one every week. We go to great pains not to print pictures that depict too much misery and death. Yet we often also ask ourselves whether if by doing that we perform a disservice to the public. Maybe sometimes news and photos are too sanitized, not shocking enough, too weak of medicine to get through to a society that seems to thrive on violence in many forms.
I had to wonder if all the gore, blood and human wreckage I have seen during my days towing and photographing accidents would change peoples habits if they had had the experience themselves. It's hard to know, but first hand experience is certainly a good teacher.
For me, I don't always remember all I have learned either. A few times on the way home Saturday evening, in the good weather, with a warm sun, and good conversation going on in the vehicle my speedometer drifted upwards of 80 as I drove toward home on I-70. It's easy to get caught up in the hypnotic trance speed generates.
We all fear those red lights in the rear view mirror, and we are careful not to speed when a police car is on the road. It's always funny to see a Highway Patrol cruiser going down the freeway and behind it a mass of cars pacing it. Personally I wish there could be one of those official vehicles every mile of the freeway; that way everyone would go slower.
It's just a simple fact of physics. The faster a vehicle travels the harder it is to slow down and if it gets sideways the harder it is to keep upright. In todays comfortable cars, SUV's and pickup trucks it is easy to get confident that nothing can hurt us. But the fact is that there are a lot of things out there that can penetrate that seemingly invincible shell around us. Modern man always seems to cast himself as superior to peoples of the past, and that may be true in some ways, but when it comes to being injured or killed by blunt force, we are no more invulnerable than those who lived a 100 or 1000 years ago
It's time that the motto "Speed kills" be taken seriously by everyone on the road.