The group was answering a question on the survey. It asked, "If you died prematurely, how would that happen?" I and everyone else answered the same way, "In a car accident."
Living in Los Angeles or any large city, driving on freeways is a part of life. Lots of people commute daily to and from their jobs or even taking their kids to school. The term "rush hour" has now come to define the morning and afternoon hours where folks are heading to and from work on weekdays. Traffic is stop and go, or picks up, but, no matter what, it is crowded with most people sharing a similar goal. Get to work or get home as fast as possible. I have not researched it, yet I seem to see more accidents during rush hour than at other times. Maybe someone was late for work or tired after a long week.
An unfortunate accident is often marked early on by stand still traffic that has no explanation. Other drivers get more agitated because they are now indefinitely late. In Los Angeles, it does not seem to matter what side of the freeway the accident is on, both directions of traffic come to a near standstill. Sometimes it is a mere fender bender with both parties milling about with a lone police car there. Other time, it is a more severe accident, with fire trucks, police cars or an ambulance. Worst case scenario, you see a sheet covering a person's body. When I see the more severe accidents, I often think about the person involved and his or her family. Someone is not coming home that day or maybe ever again, and the family does not even know yet.
I jump in my car, like most, and see it as means to get where I need to go. I have no real concept of its actual weight or power. Thinking about it like that, when we climb in a car we all bear a significant responsibility to be present, coherent and calm, for our and others wellbeing. The movie, 7 Pounds, details the guilt a man feels for ending 7 lives when he was checking his cell phone while going around a curve. Life is not like a video game where we can press reset when we have a crash. What has often bothered me about the phrase "rush hour" is the following; during the time that we have the most people on the road trying to get to work on time or coming home after a long day at work is when we ought to be the most present and calm, not pressured for time. A better way to approach a commute would be to see it as a time to relaxing, be peaceful, and maybe listen to a book on tape instead of getting in the car anticipating having to fight our way to a destination. I read somewhere that rushing either doesn't save any time at all or the time is minimal when compared to the risks taken.
What seems to be the challenging part about traffic is its unpredictability. One day, a trip can be 30 minutes, the next day an hour. What time should we leave? What I want to see is commuter camaraderie. We are all in this together. "You need to pull in front of me to exit and you were daydreaming and just noticed. No problem. Here, I'll let you in. I noticed you needing to get in even before you signaled. Have a good day." People treat others in cars in ways they would not ever treat people in person. Being in a car removes us from each other and almost creates an excuse for ignoring each other or rude behavior. I've read funny stories where one driver is rude to another only to learn that the person he was rude to was the person interviewing him for a job that day. The very job interview he was rushing to.
How about this? Let's relax. Traffic is traffic and we can't change it. If we relaxed, traffic might even flow better. Then, how about we try acting like we know the other people on the freeway personally or we will be meeting them very soon and adjust our attitudes and behaviors. Let's imagine that the other drivers are either already our friends or will soon be our friends. We wish them well and show them courtesy and kindness. Act like we'd want someone to act towards someone close to you or that you might see at church or at a school meeting next week. The fact is that you, I and the others have to be on the road as part of our life and we have to interact with each other on the road. That time is going to be spent and the interactions will be spent no matter what. The question becomes how do we want to use time, our most precious resource?
What I think would also be great to have a national radio station that caters to the safety and well being of people on the road. Maybe it plays calm music, not so calm we'd fall asleep, speaks about taking our time on the road, being aware of the cars around us, letting people in, dropping back to not follow so closely and checking our mirrors. It would keep us both alert and relaxed. Considering what we have learned medically about the harm that releasing stress hormones causes, wouldn't it be wonderful if we used the time we had to spend in the car to improve our physical health and well being by reducing our stress level? The health benefits of calming he mind and body twice a day would probably result in enormous physical and mental health benefits. The commuter radio station would also remind us that everyone on the freeway is like us, looking to fulfill a responsibility of some kind or to enjoy their day. Anyone could tune to it 24 hours a day to help stay relaxed and present in a challenging environment. Cell phones, music and passengers pull our attention away from the road, and it would be nice to have a radio station that partnered with the commuters to take that valuable time to help us relax. Instead of careless and aggressive adversaries jockeying for a lane advantage, we drivers would instead work together as a team to get ourselves and each person on the road safely and soundly to his or her destination.
By Laura Trice, M.D.
CEO/Founder Laura's Wholesome Junk Food