Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Check Your Blind Spot."

Who Saved Your Life Today? Yesterday?
Last Week? The Last 45 Years?

Life Lessons and
Driver’s Education Class

“Thank you, Mr. Lockmiller” is a phrase my children often hear.
They have never met him, but they know to whom
I refer when I express my gratitude.”

“Check Your Blind Spot.”

Deadliest highway in the United States--
I-95 in Florida

It’s the deadliest highway in the United States. I try not to think about the death toll as I drive on I-95 in Florida. It’s easier to forget the statistics when I’m on the two-lane Indian River County section of ’95, although it, too, has had many fatalities. As I drive south and the lanes expand to three, four, and then six, the number of cars expands exponentially and it’s less easy to forget. Perhaps it’s the raceway atmosphere or the tailgaters, for whom no speed is high enough, or the remnants of vehicles, or the crosses and silk flower memorials that dot far too many off-road areas. I have a friend in her sixties who stopped driving I-95 several years ago. She figures she’s logged her share of miles on that road and won’t tempt fate.
I don’t like to tempt fate, but US1 takes way too long for trips longer than fifty miles, and Florida’s Turnpike, although safer, gets pricey, and also has six lanes near Ft. Lauderdale.
I don’t know how many I-95 accidents result from drivers not checking their blind spots, but I imagine the number is high. I see drivers preparing to merge onto ’95, and it’s rare to see anyone turn their head to check for oncoming traffic. People use side-view mirrors, but anyone who’s driven any amount of time knows about the dreaded “blind spot.” You hear about the “blind spot” when you take drivers’ ed classes, and “blind spot” checking is now a feature on new “smart” cars that “tell” you when you’re about to hit something, or something is about to hit you. I have leaned on my horn many a time when someone does not check their blind spot and veers into my lane, so I know few people have smart cars and not everyone checks their blind spot.
When I learned to drive too many years ago, I had the best-possible version of a “smart” car—Mr. Laverne Lockmiller, my driver’s education teacher. Mr. Lockmiller cut nobody any slack when it came to the rules of the road. The running joke when I’m in the car with one of my kids is that the brake on the floor of the passenger side of the car does not work. The brake on Mr. Lockmiller’s side of the car worked quite well, and he often demonstrated its effectiveness. It is so disconcerting when the car you are driving slows to a crawl or a stop, and your foot is nowhere near the brake.
“What? What did I do now?” I wondered each time I felt the result of Mr. Lockmiller’s foot on the brake and saw him shake his head from the corner of my eye. I don’t know if he had any nervous tic in his personal life, but I imagine one class with a student like me could have produced several, not to mention the hundreds of students he taught in his career.
Several lapses in skills accounted for Mr. Lockmiller’s foot on the brake—driving over the speed limit, not keeping a safe following distance, veering too far into the lane next to you—but as I recall, none produced the brake as often as the blind spot directive.
Mr. Lockmiller would say to change lanes and because I had checked my rear-view mirror, I would start to move toward the lane next to me. I felt the car slow to a crawl. “What? What did I do now?” I wondered. “Check your blind spot,” he said. I don’t know how often the students and I heard “Check your blind spot,” but it stuck and stuck well. I can be driving I-95 in South Carolina where the only scenery on the plywood-flat road is pine trees and too many miles stretch between exits and rest stops. It is a boring road and when driving it, I have to use every stay-awake and pay-attention trick so I don’t doze or daze. At certain times, few cars are on the highway, creating a double-dose of tedium. I might drive for twenty-five miles and not see another vehicle and something in the road ahead, perhaps a chunk of truck tire, necessitates a lane change. “I don’t have to check my blind spot,” I might think. “I haven’t seen another car or truck for fifteen minutes.” I’ll begin moving to the left, and whoa, I feel the car slow, even though my foot is on the accelerator, and I hear his voice: “Check your blind spot.” And I do.
I cannot count the times in the last forty-five years that checking my blind spot has saved me and my family and other passengers in my car from certain destruction. I might be ready to change lanes and I hear his voice, “Check your blind spot.” I do and there it is—the car, the truck, the motorcycle that I would have hit had I not checked. At those times, and probably hundreds of times over the years, I always say aloud: “Thank you, Mr. Lockmiller.” Years ago, the kids asked “Who is Mr. Lockmiller?” They now know who he is and no longer consider him a stranger in the car. And he’s not. He’s still there, next to me, every time I even think about changing lanes before putting safety first. I feel the car slow, I hear his voice, “Check your blind spot.” And I say, once again, “Thank you, Mr. Lockmiller.” 

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