These words will reach few ears. —But you hear them, because you and I share in community life.
Communities gather about ideas. Before we ever met, something about traffic safety attracted us. Individually, we valued the idea. Then, our values inspired us: we resolved to interact. The idea brought us together. Now, it impels us toward richer interactions, for which reason we say our community, the Vision Zero community, lives.
Community life—fragile—is perpetuated, but with difficulty. Surviving requires sustaining the idea that brought us together. Like a neglected egg, that idea’s vital goop could easily dry up, leaving only a hollow shell. Hollow ideas inspire no one. And, about hollow ideas, one never finds community life thriving.
Of course, to abandon traffic safety, forsake our community—unthinkable! Too many lives are at stake. Traffic safety is too valuable. As a hen tends her egg, therefore, to preserve the idea’s substance is our duty. We must ensure that traffic safety can be valued—that, for a long while yet, people will consider it, advocate it, glorify it. Only if the idea is sustained will the Vision Zero community live on.
If we fulfill our duty, the phrase “traffic safety” will mean more than the words that constitute it. The idea will produce real effects, real changes in people’s lives. That is our goal—but, are we doing it right? “Don’t drink and drive,” “buckle your safety belt”—do these familiar maxims sustain the idea? Was any of them the something that initially attracted you?
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that traffic safety, as it sits before us in its nest of twigs and string, needs something more—elaborate. The problem, precisely, concerns the idea’s capacity to penetrate into people’s everyday thoughts and feelings, to connect discrete experiences that, when connected, make the logic of safe driving intuitive. If “don’t drink and drive” and “buckle your safety belt” scarcely prick the surface, can we yet sharpen them?
At the North Carolina State Fair, from October 12th to the 22nd, one can find an exhibit designed with just that intent: Safety City.
Safety City is, foremost, about community. Like a city, Safety City incorporates different communities. Functioning as a sort of traffic safety hub, it facilitates new interactions. NC Vision Zero, MADD, Safe Kids, BikeSafe, BeRailSafe, Watch for Me, the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, and various law enforcement organizations all unite there, not to bore people with dry, moralizing speeches, but to demonstrate, tangibly, the meaning of traffic safety.
Put a boy in the Seat belt Convincer—he learns the meaning of prudence; give him a pair of alcohol impairment simulation goggles—he learns the meaning of temperance; show him the inside of a B.A.T. mobile—he learns the meaning of justice; call him to sign the Vision Zero pledge—he learns the meaning of fortitude. At Safety City, a boy can learn all these virtues good citizens display and—what’s most important for our goal—their relation to traffic safety.
As he grows and, eventually, learns to drive, he will connect new experiences with the ones he had at Safety City. Making those connections, he will naturally display the virtues he learned as a boy. Then, as he continues to grow, the idea will incubate in his mind. He will begin to consider it, advocate it, glorify it as we do—and, on that day, our goal will have been achieved. The Vision Zero community’s continuance will have been secured.
Sustain the idea! Come to Safety City!
If you employ a chauffeur, then you’ve fairly bought the privilege to criticize his performance as harshly as you please. But, the rest of us ride gratis, so we bite our tongues. Occasionally, we witness our friends, family members, co-workers, and classmates behaving irresponsibly behind the wheel. We feel with them; no one appreciates a back-seat driver. They aren’t our chauffeurs, and we can’t very well treat them like servants, can we? To criticize an equal’s every little fault would be—indecent.
And, anyway, their errors are mostly forgivable. They pass on the right, they merge across a solid white line, they devote both hands to fiddling with their cellphones while “steering” with their knees…No, wait! Stop! That’s super-dangerous! Even riding with friends, family, members, co-workers, and classmates, situations like the latter do arise that positively demand criticism. Where is the line? It’s probably closer to everyday life than most would suppose.
Plenty of facts and statistics support passengers intervening to dissuade drivers from behaving irresponsibly behind the wheel. For example, “distracted driving” caused 3,459 deaths in 2015. Of all those who died in automobile crashes that same year, 48% were not wearing their seat belts. The truth is plain enough: If we would speak up, we’d have no lack of things to say.
None of this evidence is really relevant to the question, though, is it? We all know how dangerous distracted driving is. We all know we should wear our seat belts. We all know we should obey the rules of the road. Like smoking in the presence of a baby, the question is really one of the limits of propriety: How serious an offense should one permit before protesting? How much smoke is it worth exposing a baby to before enough is enough, and any decent person would break that silence? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers some good guidelines for passengers in a variety of situations and—what’s most helpful—relationships to the driver. This graphic also suggests a few polite ways passengers can encourage safer driving, as does this one aimed specifically at teenagers.
The bottom line is this, though: the limits of propriety exist not to hinder and confuse but to assist living-together. If you know something makes living-together more difficult, like behaving irresponsibly behind the wheel, is it not right and proper to speak up? Even as passengers, we have that power—and no rational system of ethics denies the exercise of power to those who would use it justly. On the contrary, all of the best ones insist on it.
NC Vision Zero aims to empower North Carolina’s passengers. You can assist in their mission—and win an enviable prize to boot—by participating in the Empowered Passenger Video Contest. For more information, look up ncvisionzero.org/empoweredpassenger.