COLUMN: Thinking at 0 to 100 kilometres per hour

How many times are we not even cognizant that our full attention is not on the road?

“Driving is such a part of North American culture. We just consider it part of our routine … I don’t think we take into consideration that we are holding our lives and the lives of our passengers in our hands and the lives of others on the roads.”

Those are the sage words of Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald, offered in the context of distracted driving, and the decision by police to release a disturbing video this week of a pedestrian being hit by a distracted driver.

It’s a deeply serious issue in this city, and every other community in this country.

Think about what MacDonald said.

While we’re driving, how often do we truly reflect upon the fact that we are in control of a ton or more of metal and plastic that is hurtling along at speeds often in excess of 100 kilometres per hour?

That’s nearly 30 metres per second.

Striking a solid object, or worse, a human body, at even half that speed, will have devastating results. Metal twists, plastic crumples.

And the human body … well, it tears, and breaks, and ruptures.

Yet, how often is that cold reality in the forefront of our   minds as we cruise along, cocooned in our comfortable cars, listening to music, or refereeing the squabbling kids, or blabbing on the phone, handheld or otherwise?

Compared to the hours spent driving, the time spent thinking about it would be measurable in fractions in the tens, perhaps hundreds of thousandths.

It’s more than a little frightening.

Especially when you think about how many times you’ve been driving while distracted. Never mind the occasions you did so deliberately, like juggling a coffee and a muffin on the way to work. Or trying to read a map while looking for an address.

How many times are we not even cognizant that our full attention is not on the road?

The glance toward the store signage. The curious stare at the strange guy on the sidewalk. The appreciative gaze at the scenery. The visual check on a fresh radio station or CD.

Or, in the case of the woman in the video featured by the police – a glance at her purse.

There are holier-than-thou proclamations by some on social media, who are quick to condemn her and all others who make errors of such serious consequence.

And I’m not here to defend her.

But neither am I here to pass judgment without admitting there have been times where I have been behind the wheel, looked away for a scant second or two and back again, to have the icy realization that, in another second, or a half or a quarter – in another 30 or 20 or 10 metres … it could have been disaster. For me, maybe for my passengers, and maybe for someone else.

No one who has spent considerable time in the driver’s seat can say they’ve not had such a moment.

And that’s what the police are trying to do with the video.

Get us to think of those moments. Frequently. Maybe starting at 0 kilometres per hour – when we turn the ignition key.

Is that realistic? Probably not.

Is it a worthy objective? Absolutely.

We can’t help what other people are doing, or not doing, on the road. We are, however, responsible for what we do.

Watch that video. Watch it again.

And say to yourself, not only, “There’s a bad driver,” but “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

And hopefully, you’re not depending on such divine intervention when you’re in control of a vehicle.