March 31, 2010

Speaking Out – Freedom and Driving

JGrahamBy James N. Graham, Attorney at Law
Staff Contributor

In the U.S., driving a car, truck, RV or motorcycle on the open road evokes freedom like nothing else. The thrill of being able to go where you want, when you want, as fast as you want in the vehicle that you want is the ideal of the freedom to travel.

With freedom comes responsibility. At age 16, when a person first obtains the freedom to drive, he or she must also assume responsibility. There is the financial responsibility associated with buying, maintaining, and fueling a car. More importantly, there is the social responsibility to drive with attention and caution in order to avoid harming other drivers and pedestrians.

As someone who barely retained his license for a few of my teenage years, I know how difficult it can be for a young person to drive responsibly. My first car was a 1969 Mustang convertible. This was a vehicle that screamed freedom and, like its namesake stallion, the Mustang was born to run fast. Of course the police, in their duty to protect other people and property, insisted that the Mustang be ridden like a miniature burro. Nonetheless, there was no better feeling than cruising at sunset with the top down going to who knows where.

Maturity causes one’s judgment and driving skills to increase. Accident rates for drivers start at their highest level at age 16 and remain high for the first several years. They then decline quickly for a few years, and then plateau for most of adulthood. There then comes an age when accident rates begin rising again.

Elderly drivers are not prone to reckless behavior as they might have been in their younger days. But difficulty seeing and reacting quickly is simply a fact of life as time progresses. Further, many people are on medications which may make driving more dangerous.

Thus, as a person advances in age, he or she must, at some point, exchange the freedom and responsibility of driving for the convenience and safety of riding. Whether relying on friends, family, professional services, mass transit or a combination of these options, people who wish to remain mobile must find different ways to get around rather than simply hopping in and taking off.

Most people who rely on others for transportation do not seem to miss standing out in the cold at the gas station, deicing the windshield, waiting at the DMV counter, trying to get something fixed for a reasonable price or writing yet another insurance premium check. Further, there really are not many places, if any, that cannot be reached using one of the above methods of transportation. It simply requires a little more patience, planning, and reliance on the schedules of other people. The freedom to travel remains an important force, but with that freedom arises the responsibility to find safe ways to do so, even if the Mustang wants to run.