Unsafety

In a discussion forum about classic Volkswagen Beetles a couple of years ago, someone asked if I would daily drive such a car, and I said yes. I mentioned how long I’ve had it, all the trips I’ve taken, how well the car has held up over the years, and how in some respects, it’s a safe car for me because everyone notices the car. Often, predators go after those who are so unnoticeable that they are easily culled from the herd and that doesn’t hold true for me.

There’s always someone who has to get testy, although it took two years for any testiness to surface. As this particular fellow just said, “You have no worries for your own safety? Admittedly, a classic VW Beetle tends to stand out from regular traffic, but in the age of young testosterone-overloaded guys driving 400 hp diesel trucks with 40″ tires, I am surprised that being safe in an accident doesn’t seem to register with you.”

My response, “Maybe driving defensively and staying out of accidents is more important that being safe in an accident,” only ramped up his disgust with my lack of safety.

In a rather ironic twist of fate, a book I read yesterday happened to be about a teenager who was driving his rebuilt classic VW and was hit head-on by a drunk driver. Eek.

I understand that accidents happen even to safe drivers, but I’ve noticed that all the safety features in a car, while saving lives, also seem to encourage rash behavior behind the wheel. In an old car, there is no doubt one is driving — the noise, uncomfortable seat, and non-power steering tell you that. In today’s relatively silent cars with plush seats, people act as if they are sitting in their living room rather than behind the wheel of a lethal weapon. They rely too much on those vaunted safety features to save their life, but seem to have no concern for other lives they might be endangering.

I understand that the old VW bugs are dangerous, which is why there are so few on the road today — so many of them were wrecked in various accidents. Even I have been in accidents, mostly fender benders, never one where I was seriously injured. The truth is, though, that cars other than old VWs are those mostly involved in accidents nowadays.

Since it’s possible for anyone to get in an accident at any time, I never take driving for granted and am particularly careful to drive only when conditions are good. I don’t drive at night when visibility is limited. I don’t drive during rain or snow storms. (As you can see, I’d never make it as a mail deliverer because snow and rain and heat and gloom of night all stay me from completing any appointed rounds.) I don’t drive during rush hour. And I don’t drive in city traffic. I’d take these same precautions even if I were driving a tank with every imaginable safety feature because I understand that any car can be a weapon. (Most statistics just show fatal accident statistics, but non-fatal accidents are problematic, too. Approximately 1.35 million people die in vehicle accidents each year, but 20-50 million additional people sustain non-fatal injuries, often resulting in long-term disabilities.)

I could be wrong, but I tend to think that if everyone who got behind the wheel realized they were in control of a dangerous weapon that demands their full attention, there would be fewer accidents.

Although at the time of the discussion, I said that I did drive my car every day, things have changed, and now I seldom drive. This year, of course, there have been issues, such as carburetors and distributors and other parts that don’t talk to one another as well as brake problems. (What takes all the time is getting the parts. This far from civilization, there are no specialty car part stores, so everything has to be ordered online.) Even before the car parts issue, I curtailed my driving. I can get almost everything I need within walking distance. Those other things can be ordered online or purchased on the rare occasions when I go to a bigger town with more stores.

What concerns me more than driving or not driving is why anyone I’ve never met would have any opinion whatsoever about the unsafety of my car.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

More About Risks and Safety

I think a lot about safety, wondering how to be adventurous and bold while at the same time not embarking on a death march.

Human predators mostly look for the weakest member of the herd, someone who walks with their head down, someone that no one will notice if they disappear. To that end, I keep my head up, try to pay attention to what’s around me, and always wear a hat that makes me stand out. Wide brims with flowers, ribbons, feathers — any sort of decoration that makes people look and smile. Seems like a silly sort of thing to do for protection, but getting people to notice me in a good way makes it harder for a predator to cull me from the herd. Not that I started wearing hats for that reason. The hats came first, the reason later. I wear hats for protection from the sun, and when I would get gorgeous ribbons on presents, I started decorating my hats with them. It’s nice that the extra bit of color makes people smile and me noticeable.

When I was trying to decide whether to get a new car or get my Beetle restored, the deciding factor was safety. Admittedly, an old bug, even one with a new engine and transmission isn’t the safest car from a driving point of view, but from a predator point of view, it’s worth its weight in gold. Everyone notices my car. Not everyone talks to me, but everywhere I go, someone does, and that is protection. And if something were to happen to me, if I were disappeared from an interstate truck stop, someone would notice that my car was there way longer than it should be. Most cars don’t garner attention because most cars are common. But mine is an uncommon car of memories and dreams. And there is safety in that.

Although I blog about my adventures, giving frequent updates, I am particularly careful not to post itineraries online. After I’ve been somewhere, I will tell you about it, but I see no reason to leave a trail for predators to follow. For someone who lives her life online, I guard my privacy. (And you should too.)

I do other things of course. Carry an external battery good for four charges of my cell phone. I stash filled water bottles under my seat, carry extra food, keep my camping quilt and a pillow handy, have a flashlight near at hand, keep a few tools in the glove compartment, have an emergency kit in the car, and oh, so many other things.

When I’ve hiked by myself, I’ve carried a map, generally just a handout at a trail head or printed off the internet, but when/if I ever get into a real backpacking situation, I will make sure I have a topographical map and compass, and will know how to use them.

I’m researching other things at the moment, such as bear spray (which some people say is great, some people say no, some people say it’s illegal in areas) and a bear horn to scare the animal away if I were ever so lucky to see one. Knowing me, though, I’d probably do what I do when I see a snake — watch it in awe. But we’ll see what my research holds. (I’m more concerned with dogs, though. I’ve never even seen a bear when I hiked in the woods, but I have been bitten by someone’s unleashed dog because the stupid woman couldn’t control her three animals.)

I’m not foolish enough to say nothing will happen to me, because anything can happen, and often does. But that knowledge is a safety feature I carry with me at all times. Cockiness can get people killed. Caution can save lives. And I am almost always cautious. I listen to my surroundings, not music. I try to be present in the moment and not get lost in daydreams. I use two trekking poles to save my knees, to help me keep my balance on slopes, and hopefully to ward off anything that comes close.

All this is by way of saying that I do everything in my power to minimize whatever  risks I might face, so that I can face adventure with wonder and a touch of boldness.

I understand how difficult it is to see someone you care about take risks, so I hope this makes you feel better about the risks I take.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.