By ROBERT JUMPER
One Feather Editor
I don’t like sloppy drivers. I confess that from time to time, I am a sloppy driver too. But I do my best to not be one. But carelessness will hit you in the moments when you are most relaxed or distracted.
Commuting the Soco Road as many as 10 times a week gives you time to ponder, analyze, and be critical. And it is a prime viewing ground for sloppy driving. Some folks drive that curvy, treacherous stretch of highway like it is just a walk in the park. For them, boundary lines are suggestions to be used in the case of oncoming traffic, maybe. I have seen drivers swerve entirely into the opposing lane for no other obvious reason than that they could. On a winding road, you would think you would not see that type of behavior, because of the limited visibility that rock cliffs provide. But folks apparently think that their reflexes get better with age, and some will Tokyo drift the winding curves of Soco Mountain like they are movie stunt drivers.
If you need evidence of what I am talking about, take your own cruise of discovery up one side and down the other. The DOT recently repainted the center lines on the Cherokee side of the mountain; bright double yellow (and if you don’t remember it from the last time you dusted off the driver’s manual and regulations, the double yellow means stay on your side of the road) and you will note that at every curve, the yellow paint is tracked all over the highway from people not doing what the double lines tell you that you need to do-stay on your side. DOT road paint is quick drying stuff, especially in 80–90-degree heat, so you know that the road warriors were swerving out of their lanes as soon as the paint truck moved out of the way. At least I hope they were out of the way.
Depending on which speed limit signs you are reading at the time, each vehicle has the potential to be traveling from 40 to 50 miles per hour. I know many who exceed that speed by at least 10 miles, again placing confidence in the fresh-as-a-daisy reflexes we have with each day that time marches on. So, there is the good possibility that if we meet coming around those blind curves, we could potentially impact at a combined speed of 100 plus miles per hour.
“A head-on collision often results in catastrophic, life-altering, or fatal injuries. Using mathematical formulas and physics experiments, researchers learned that 43 is the fastest speed at which you have a fighting chance to survive a head-on collision. For this reason, safety advocates warn you to avoid any highways where opposing traffic travels without dividers at speeds higher than 40 mph. If either car in an accident is traveling faster then 43 mph, the chances of surviving a head-on crash plummet. One study shows that doubling the speed from 40 to 80 actually quadruples the force of the impact. Even at 70 mph, your chances of surviving a head-on collision drop to 25 percent. Drivers who exceed the posted speed limit may not have statistics and calculations, but they certainly must realize they are increasing the level of danger for other drivers.” (mbennettlaw.com)
And the lovely extra bonus you would get in a high-speed head-on on Soco Mountain would be to potentially be bounced over the bank and down a steep ravine. The alternative would be to get pushed into a rock cliff. Either way, I don’t like the odds.
Something else that puts starch in my shorts is being tailgated up and down the mountain. It never fails that, since I drive a pretty low-profile vehicle, somebody with a big pick up or SUV with LED lights will try to ride my rear bumper for the duration of the trip across Soco. When they do, I try to make their journey just as long as I can by slowing down to a crawl (you see, there is no minimum speed limit on Soco).
Being distracted by a tailgater is among the risk factors in accidents. Anyone who is braving traffic on the Boundary will encounter at least one road rage ’r who desperately needs to shave two minutes off their journey. By the way, age is not a factor in crazy driving. Road nuts may come up on your back bumper from any age group, gender, or nationality. I have always been amazed at our unnatural faith in mechanisms like brakes and our own dexterity. The other fascinating attribute is our arrogance or obliviousness to courtesy. A person who would not get in your personal space in a movie theatre line or dinner party will gladly and without thought ride the bumper of your vehicle, usually with blinding neon headlights blazing. If we need any evidence that we have become a rude culture, we need only to look to the roads.
Another is the multitude of things that we engage ourselves in while driving. Our phones have become gods to us, demanding our every moment and interrupting even the most sacred times in our lives. Let the theatre project a slide requesting that folks turn off or silence their phones and then watch the light show of people using their cell phones as soon as the lights are dimmed to start the movie. It reminds you of going to a Skynyd concert when people used to “flick their Bics” when the band played “Freebird”. Except in the theatre, it is glowing smartphone screens instead of flickering lighters. We just can’t seem to disconnect. And that is bad news when we get on the highway.
From the USDOT: “Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system-anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving. Texting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed. Using a cell phone while driving creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads. In 2020, 3,142 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.”
Now, if you are on the Soco road, you will encounter multiple “can’t see around it” curves in the space the length of a football field. It is a wonder that more of us have not wound up maimed or dead on the mountain. And smartphone use during driving is not just an activity of the young. I have seen plenty of grannies and papaws fiddling with their gadgets as they drive on our roads. Again, no matter the age, we could be trading 5 seconds of bowing to our phones for our lives, or someone else’s. And no matter how great a driver you are, you cannot control the actions of the drivers who may be behind or in front of you. On roads like Soco, you have very few options if you encounter an erratic or inattentive driver.
So, I guess I am picking on everybody, including myself. I don’t know if we look at our vehicles as suits of armor that make us invincible to the forces of physics or look at our windshields as giant video game screens in a make-believe world where we have multiple lives to exhaust before it “gets real”. But neither is the case. Sloppy driving is a symptom of a bigger problem in our culture, both tribal and non-tribal. For the members of our Tribe, our ancestors didn’t see courtesy and care for others as optional. It was a way of life-putting others before self. We preach core values but fall far short of living by them. And that can have dire consequences for all. I hope that you and I wake up before our arrogance catches up to us. See you on road to Soco.