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“What’s the worst that could happen?”

People oughta ask that question more often, particularly when they’re getting in their cars.

A lady a couple of houses from me in Kernersville saw a car blow through two stop signs in our neighborhood this morning. She was at her own car, buckling her preschooler into the safety seat, safety on her mind this time of day: What’s the worst that could happen?

December 2012 – 6:46 a.m., the day before school lets out for Christmas. An 11-year-old boy hurries across the street to make the school bus. At the last second he looks left – a Jeep SUV is coming right at him. His mother, a nurse, hears the impact, rushes outside, tries twice to breathe the life back into him. She just can’t find an airway.

How often do we take off in the morning thinking about the day ahead and not the road ahead? Maybe we’ve got calls to make and problems to solve, or maybe there’s nothing but sunshine coming our way. What’s the worst that could happen?

April 2014 – 8:32 a.m., a gorgeous spring morning, a young woman is whizzing to work. She’s listening to tunes, that big hit by Pharrell, posting selfies, irony of ironies posting to Facebook “The happy song makes me HAPPY,” she veers across the median. It’s not sunshine, it’s a flatbed truck and that song is over.

Later today, the neighbor lady posted a friendly reminder on the neighborhood message board for folks to slow down and be careful. Can’t hurt. But I know that I myself drive a bit too fast sometimes, and I really do try not to. And by the time I get down the country roads, out on the interstate and downtown to work, as the days go by I pretty much see it all: speeding, texting, tailgating, school bus violations, drunk drivers, the works.

Still, like I said, warnings can’t hurt. Here are a few sobering statistics:

  • 1441 people were killed in motor vehicle collisions in North Carolina in 2016, representing a 4.4% increase over 2015.
  • 130,137 people were injured in 2016, also an increase over 2015.
  • One in five NC crashes involved a driver who admitted to being distracted.
  • Speed was a factor in 4% of all crashes, but a factor in 28% of crashes that involved a fatality.
  • Forsyth County, where I live, saw 42 traffic fatalities in 2016, up when compared with the previous 10-year average of 32 per year.
  • Guilford County, where I work, saw 59 fatalities, also up when compared to its previous 10-year average of 53.
  • State-wide, there were 1441 fatalities, up from the 10-year average of 1378

Data – North Carolina 2016 Traffic Crash Facts

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

The question can be the set-up for a joke, a kind of verbal swagger, devil-may-care and what the heck, and it’s even the title of a pretty good book and a pretty bad movie.

But I like to use it as a tool, a mental switch I flip. Even when everything is looking like blue skies and smooth sailing, I smile and ask it to the world at large. Then I stop and ask it again, dead serious. Because the worst? It is always out there waiting.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Frank

    Every day I watch so many cars blow through stop signs, red lights, you name it. I think there's a simple way to prevent a lot of these things from happening. First of all, when it comes to the road, where the actual public drives, why does a car need to go faster than the speed limit anyways? Maybe put in sensors that can limit the speed in the area where a speed limit is enforced. Like the Winston salem business 40 where it's 45, the speed. Have it where the speed limit signs themselves enable a type of device that limits speed to just 45, etc. Basically it would be where whatever the highest speed limits are in the state is as fast as you would ever be allowed to drive. It's not perfect, but it would at least slow people down. Doesn't make sense to go fast.

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