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Give the gift of life

Posted: December 18, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 18, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

Most Americans have read or heard about the recent tragedy involving two young men in the fatal car crash in the Valencia industrial park here in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The case was notable as one of the victims was a renowned actor and the other a successful local businessman.

Both were family men, great fathers, friends to thousands and circumspect and successful in their lives.

One brief judgment error ended their lives unnecessarily and far too prematurely. Their loss, and the loss to family, friends, and associates, is staggering.
Some chide, “I would never take risks like that driving,” and it is true that most don’t drive such high-performance cars. But admit it” You have indeed sped down Highway 5 or 14 at 80, or 85, or 90 miles per hour, self-justifying,

“I’m just going at the flow of traffic.”

Others of us tempt fate, allowing ourselves to be distracted, dialing and picking up calls on our cellphones. Some drift across lanes while texting back and forth.

And way too many of us have hopped into our cars after dinner and drinks assuring ourselves, “We’re good to go.”

All are assured of our personal actions until fate or physics eventually have their say and make us pay for our choices. But nearly always, we get away with our bad moves ... until one time we don’t, and we too, become featured on the front page of The Signal for the missteps we personally made.

Our human proclivity for error is nearly universal, but still we remain slow to learn. And while there is absolutely nothing good to come from the loss of Paul and Roger, their loss reminds us to be much more honest about our own driving choices — in fact, in all our life choices.

These were two fantastic people, and but for one very brief mistake amidst lives abundant in superb choices, they are gone. We are just as culpable ourselves, but so far, most of us have not been made to pay the same price for our own misjudgment — yet.

The U.S. sees roughly 34,000 driving fatalities and about 1.8 million driving injuries every year. Few human activities, save smoking and over-eating, are more dangerous, yet we approach driving like we’re impermeable and immortal once ensconced in our four-wheeled metal wonderlands of six-speaker stereo and Bluetooth sound.

Driving seems so natural, so familiar; we give little thought to the implications of the physics of propelling our soft, pliable bodies in metal boxes at 70 mph and more.

Blunt impact is a fearful thing when you’ve witnessed it first person, yet most drive by accidents without letting the fear and reality of vehicular mishaps sink in.

The bad news is that we’re crashing at such a high rate that accidents make the local paper nearly every day.

That represents a clear and present danger to each of us.

But there’s good news, too. Most of the mayhem and misery of vehicular accidents can be avoided with personal caution and good judgment.

It is true that fully half of all traffic fatalities are simply from drivers and occupants not using seatbelts. Unbuckled passengers become projectiles and window crashers, while buckled-up folks remain “restrained from trauma.”

So “buckle up” and you’ve cut your and your family’s fatality risk by half.

When Carrie and I had kids we had a practice that when we didn’t hear a “click count” equal to the number of occupants in the car, I’d simply sit behind the wheel parked, waiting until the reticent kid finally got the message and snapped on the belt.

Oh, it took dozen of frustrating times, but habits were eventually learned, and today our kids do, indeed, “buckle up for safety.” What an easy and important lesson to teach our kids.

Second on fatality causality is, of course, drinking and driving. You can save yourself 50 percent of this driving risk by simply not being that drunken driver on the road. You can make an even bigger impact if you never let a drinking friend drive.

Be the designated driver — or simply call a cab. It’s that easy to directly save lives.

Speeding and stop-light violations are implicated in most vehicular mayhem. As simple as it sounds, simply “following the speed limit” and carefully abiding by traffic lights and stop signs are your tickets to a long and healthy life.

Most “traffic accidents” are, in truth, little more than failure to pay full and proper attention to the immediate task at hand of driving your car appropriately.

Buckle up. Drive sober. Don’t speed. Respect traffic lights — however frustratingly they’re timed. Do just these simple steps and your odds of joining the sad national list of 34,000 annual deaths and 1.8 million accidents reduces dramatically.

This isn’t sexy stuff. But know that your life matters to your friends and family who love you. Know that you’re needed. So commit to no more tragedies.

One more time, Santa Clarita: Slow down, buckle up, drive sober, mind the signs, and pay attention. Give the gift of life and longevity to yourself and your loved ones this holiday season and long beyond.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

 

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