Wissot: Running a red light is drunk driving minus the alcohol | VailDaily.com

Wissot: Running a red light is drunk driving minus the alcohol

Running a red light is a more common occurrence (at least I hope it is) than driving under the influence. Regrettably, I’ve done both, but, thankfully, not at the same time. The drunk driver believes he can drive safely in an inebriated state while the driver who runs a red light thinks he is accident-proof. Sadly, they are both frequently wrong.

More than 10 thousand American deaths each year are caused by drunk drivers; almost a thousand deaths can be attributed to drivers running red lights. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have worked tirelessly for decades to crack down on drunk drivers. A comparable effort is needed in order to prevent traffic tragedies by drivers who think that stopping for a red light is optional.

The times I’ve gotten behind the wheel alcohol-impaired, I conned myself into thinking “I’m OK, I can handle this.” I was a dunce to believe that. Fortunately, I never caused an accident but I could have. Luckily, I never got a DUI but I should have. I escaped by the grace of a benevolent higher power each time I acted senselessly and recklessly. Other drunk drivers and their victims weren’t so blessed.  

I think drivers who speed through red lights are often awful judges of speed-distance ratios. I suspect a little voice in their heads whispers, “I can make this light if I just go faster.” Sometimes they do. But when they don’t, we find out about it when a news alert flashes across the screen of our smartphones. Playing “beat the light” to avoid having to stop on red is like a boxer leading with his chin to prevent a knockout. The sound of a boxer hitting the canvas is the sound that no fighter wants to hear just as the sound of metal hitting metal is the sound that no driver wants to hear.

I’m sure drivers who don’t stop at red lights have their ready-made excuses. Some are late for work, others are anxious to get home, while a few simply dislike traffic rules. I think those excuses suck. They imply a lack of impulse control and a selfish disregard for the welfare of strangers. The bottom line is unless someone is driving a police car, a fire truck, or an ambulance, the only decision a driver has to make when a light turns red is to stop.

Support Local Journalism

As a pedestrian standing on a sidewalk waiting to step into the street, I have a first-hand view of the choices facing drivers who must decide whether to slow down or speed up when a light turns yellow. Looking out for my safety as a pedestrian means not even thinking about crossing the street until well after the light turns red. I can usually count on a minimum of 3-4 cars running the red light at the exact same moment the little white hand flashes the safe-to-walk signal to me. If I wasn’t overly cautious and wound up as roadkill, the fact that I was in the right and the delinquent driver was in the wrong would become the saddest of posthumous consolations.

A car is a loaded gun on wheels. The last words that a person who has been shot wants to hear are, “I didn’t know the gun was loaded.” Similarly, the last words that a person on the receiving end of a car running a red light wants to hear from the driver at fault is, “I thought I could make it.” When firing a gun or driving a car, lapses in judgment are not excusable because the consequences are often irreversible.

I finished this column more than a month ago and, irony of ironies, two weeks after I did my little Audi TT was assaulted by an SUV running a red light. Fortunately, neither one of us was hurt. This was a first-time experience for me. In 61 years of driving, I’d never been in a car crash or had a serious motor vehicle accident. I thought about karma and the possibility of payback for the times I stupidly drove under the influence or foolishly ran a red light. But then I realized somebody up there must like me because I’m still alive and able to write an afterword for this column.

The collision left me excessively paranoid about driving. Parking lots petrify me. Frankly, I’d prefer taking my chances on the autobahn. I’ve taken accident preparedness to an extreme by wearing a helmet, shoulder pads, and a face guard, before getting into my car. I won’t allow myself to drift into daydream land for even a split second. Multi-tasking while driving is strictly for dummkopfs.

Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at jayhwissot@mac.com


Support Local Journalism