Tragedy can be just a glance away
It only takes a few seconds for an accident to happen, writes Florence Horsman-Hogan
I'M A nervous passenger in a car. In fact, I'd go as far as to say I'm almost pathological about it. Funny, strangers I'm okay with -- but I save my greatest angst for hubby. I'll screech and squeak at him if I think he's travelling too fast/ not concentrating enough on the road/ any other imagined risk-taking that I know in my heart of hearts he's not actually committing. My almost daily journey into work involves the use of two roundabouts -- oh Jesus, the sweet irony of it.
As I don't drive, I have to take a taxi, bike or hubby. The terror I feel when we're driving on to roundabouts is almost hysterically funny if it weren't so real. If there are any other cars actually using the roundabout at the same time, I'm catatonic with fear. My eyes are closed, hand in a death grasp on the door handle (yes, it will save me if we're slammed into at high speed!), and my foot is pressed firmly on the imaginary brake on my passenger side.
Hubby knows this and to a certain extent tolerates my pathetic warning yells to "watch that car!" (two miles away), "slow down!" (travelling at 40kmh is crazily dangerous), "oh dear, Jesus mind that dog" -- "it's dead, Florence, can't you see it's lying on the grass verge?".
I'm always convinced that each car trip will be my last. He tolerates it, but is always telling me that if I keep it up, I could cause an accident because I panic him as well. If he had his way, he'd send me off with a donkey and cart -- and d'you what? -- I'd be quite happy with my nice, slow but oh so safe Neddy. Thing is, they mightn't let me park him in the hospital where I work.
Yet two weeks ago -- despite travelling well within the speed limit -- we almost certainly came within inches of serious injury or death itself. The speed at which we were travelling -- 70kmh -- left little or no room for sudden stopping. Travelling along the N11, radio blaring, chatting away, which we do nearly every day, I called hubby's attention to a building that had recently been painted a weird colour. We both glanced sideways for all of maybe three seconds and when I looked forward, laughing at the choice of colour, out of nowhere, there was a car stopped on the road in front of us.
The sheer speed of what happened next was breathtaking. One second we had a clear road -- the next, a sudden obstacle. Time stood still. Hubby slammed on the brakes -- nothing! I could see the four young lads in the car as we cannoned towards them. Our car is a fairly powerful Audi with a fantastic braking system -- yet we just kept going. It was only a matter of three or four seconds but I could almost feel the impact of the two cars. We literally stopped a few inches from the car in front. A second or two later and we would have slammed into the car with horrific consequences. While we might have gotten away with serious injuries, at the speed at which we were travelling, I doubt that those four young lads -- who didn't even know how close they came to being hit -- would have gotten out alive.
The scary thing is that we were not only well within the speed limit and travelling on a road we know like the back of our hands, but the journey was only a 10-minute drive down this road. The distraction time of a few seconds -- a glance sideways -- almost left our children parentless and threatened other lives as well. Any accident is only a few seconds away and many road users won't be as lucky as we were that day.
Isn't it strange how most life-changing events happen in such a short period of time? A few seconds, a careless distraction, an animal, bike or child coming on to the road in front of you. As a nurse, I've seen many tragedies following road traffic accidents. A young woman paralysed for life, a young man with amputated legs, a child lying on a mortuary slab. I've spoken to so many parents or children who've used the phrase 'if only'. "If only I could turn the clock back." "If only we weren't travelling so fast." "If only I hadn't answered the mobile."
Why in God's name are we still doing this? Why are we still using the phrase 'if only' when we see the thousands of deaths or horrific injuries each year caused by people who had also used the phrase 'if only'. If an accident can happen so easily even when great care is taken, why are there so many people out there taking crazy risks and dying to say 'if only'. How many of you reading this will have your lives changed in a few seconds -- maybe even the very next time you get into your car. Then will you say "if only I'd paid heed to that piece in the paper". If only!