The other day, it was dark, I was driving my work truck back to work, and I nearly got hit by another car.
It was entirely my fault. I pulled up to an intersection, looked left, looked right, looked back left, and then proceeded through, totally without seeing the car coming toward me on my right that had been there all along and had to slam on its brakes to avoid running into me. Whoever was driving honked angrily — again, totally deserved — and then kept on their way after I passed through.
It made me feel like a giant asshole. And, it freaked me out, because I was trying to do everything right, and I still didn’t see that car.
(nope! Not the truck I was driving, nor the one that almost hit me, just a stationary one on Sauvie Island that I love;)
As someone who bikes everywhere, I am particularly conscientious when I drive. I am very aware that being behind the wheel means that I can inflict serious damage both to myself and to others, and I do every. single. thing. I can to mitigate the possibility that I would do so. I drive the speed limit. I check my blind spots. I stop for pedestrians at crosswalks or cyclists at crossings. I slow down to let people merge; I cede the right of way rather than pick a fight. I smile when people cut me off because I don’t like being angry and it’s easier to let it roll off my back. I am aware; I am alert. I hate driving, and I do it carefully, with the weight of the world on my shoulders.
And even so, sometimes I make a mistake, like I did with that car.
(even when fully loaded, this bicycle is unlikely to kill anything other than maybe a worm I accidentally run over — which I try my best not to do!)
On my bike when I make a mistake, it is incredibly unlikely that I will kill anyone. It is incredibly unlikely that I will even hurt anyone. When I’m moving through the world at, oh, 13mph or so, I have ample time to notice what’s happening around me, make course corrections if needed, stop without having someone behind me run into me, move (I hesitate to even say “swerve,” since that seems way too last-minute) out of the way. Even if I did hit someone, likely the worst that would happen is a few bruises and some colorful language.
In a car, if I make a mistake, the consequences are much higher.
And lately I’ve been thinking about how we all make mistakes. At some point, we’re all going to screw up, and we just hope that it’s like when I cut off the car — that it makes someone angry, but it doesn’t actually hurt anyone. But we’re not always going to be that lucky. So it seems to me that the best thing we can possibly do is to try to build a world in which mistakes have lowered consequences, where even if people mess up, the likelihood that they will kill someone when they do so is not so very high. Sure — ideally, no one would ever make a mistake, but that seems highly unlikely to me, and assuming human perfection does not seem like a good place to start when you’re making policy.
I’m not exactly proposing any policies here, nor am I advocating for any specific laws, although maybe I should be. I feel like this could easily be the makings of a tie to gun control, say, or lower speed limits, or any number of things that if implemented and enforced would lower consequences for human mistakes. And that all may be a post for another day, but it’s on my mind. I’m very glad my mistakes in life so far have not had drastically bad consequences, but I don’t think that’s because I’ve been any better than anyone, or more careful, just luckier. And I’d like to live in a world where what we consider luck right now is more an actual and intentional result of the way we’ve all chosen to live.
I want to live in a world where the consequences for routine mistakes that many people make, over and over, are as low as we can make them. For what it’s worth.