“Baby On Board!!!”

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by DC Steeves

 It’s Tuesday morning and I’ve settled back into my work routine. As I sit here catching up on the news from the past four days, I’m saddened by the number of vehicular accidents and consequently the numbers of deaths, that have occurred on our busy highways over the long weekend.  Accidents are accidents, they are inevitable when so many autos are occupying the same stretch of roadway while travelling at speeds often much faster than those permitted.

If you’ve read my blogs before, you already know that “I can’t drive 55.”  For those who don’t get the reference, that’s a line from an old Sammy Hagar song by the same name referring to his penchant for having a heavy foot whenever he’s behind the wheel.  I’m not advocating breaking the law,  but I know when I’m going from Point A to Point B, especially highway travel, it’s usually a little faster than the permissible posted speed limit and, well, let’s just say, I have been known to pass other drivers on the highway.

From Monday to Friday, it’s 70 miles to work in the morning, 70 miles back home in the evening.  When the work day is done, with two kids playing competitive sports, I’m usually changing out of my uniform and on the road again to get them to one of their games.  When it’s all added up at the end of a typical week it’s not unusual for me to have put 1000+ miles on my car and over the course of the year I’ve usually put up between 60 and 80 thousand MILES!  To further emphasize this, I bought my current car in December 2009 and it had 45,000 miles on it.  With three months left until my second anniversary of ownership, I’m already at 160,000 miles, and I’m expecting to put at least another 10 thousand between now and then.

This past weekend on Sunday morning I had to travel to my Significant Other’s hometown for a family baptismal ceremony. It’s about 130 miles door to door on Canada’s busiest highway, the 401.  Not only am I driving the 401 half the distance, but it will also take me directly through its busiest part in northern Toronto.  Oh, and during arguably the busiest weekend as well, the last weekend of summer holidays.

The first 60 to 70 miles are reasonably open, for the most part, three lanes heading west and though the posted speed limit is 65 MPH, the normal flow of traffic is usually around 80.

On any given day, I’m probably the first car in line, setting the pace a mile or two just above 80.  Hey!  I told you already, I can’t drive 55!!

Still, though I do drive fast, I’m not the type who is easily distracted, I’m not cutting people off by constantly changing lanes and zigzagging between cars.  I’m not claiming to be perfect, but I’m not convinced speed alone should be the determining factor on whether someone is unsafe behind the wheel.  For the most part, though I drive fast, I don’t think I’m unsafe.  I’ll save this argument for another day, but I’m a firm believer that driving 15 miles per hour below the normal acceptable flow of traffic is a lot more dangerous than someone driving 15 above the speed limit.

As I headed to Georgetown on Sunday morning, I was about an hour into my trip about 15 miles from where the highway breaks into Express lanes and Collector lanes, when in my rear view mirror I caught a flash of light.  It was really just a flicker, so I did a couple of quick checks of my side mirrors, over the shoulder…”VRRROOOOOMMMM!!!”  Holy shnikes!!  I looked at my speedometer and I was cruising at about 80, and this motorcycle rider on a suicide mission just passed me like I was standing still.  Within seconds, he was out of sight.

Having ridden a motorcycle when I was younger (much younger) I understand the thrill of riding at Mach 10 with the feel of the wind in my face, with bugs in my teeth (back before we had the full-face shields on our helmets). I’m sure I did some crazy things too while riding my bike, but I shook my head and wondered if I’d be seeing this guy again somewhere up the road and I really hoped I wouldn’t be reading about him today.

Shortly thereafter, still cruising in the middle lane, traffic volume had increased significantly, but the rate of speed was still quite good.  The passing lane was open, but I was feeling comfortable between 75 and 80 and I wasn’t really in a rush. I just wanted to make it to the church safely.  Again, in my rearview mirror, I noticed the lights of a black SUV coming up behind me.  Not nearly as fast as the motorcycle, but quite a bit faster than I was driving.  Normally, I’d be totally focused on what’s in front of me, but when I notice someone coming up behind me at a high rate of speed, it’s enough to catch my attention, so I kept my eye on the SUV.  As it sped past me, that’s when I saw them; not one, but two signs on the rear window, “CAREFUL! BABY ON BOARD!”

I didn’t know whether I should be annoyed or if I should laugh, but I knew I was upset enough to accelerate a bit until I pulled up even with the SUV.  As the signs indicated, there was not one, but rather two car seats in the back.  Then, as I edged my way up alongside the front windows, as plain as day, there she was, I’m assuming the young mother, holding her phone up and texting with her left hand while using her arm on the steering wheel, all the while trying to sip what looked like a coffee from her right hand, while travelling at approximately 80 MPH.  Oh, and let’s not forget the two “CAREFUL! BABY ON BOARD!” signs in the back window.

Some people would tell you I’m confrontational, abrupt, maybe in-your-face sometimes.  I have a tendency to challenge people when I think they are in the wrong, and on this particular morning, their description of me would have been right.  As I pulled alongside the black SUV, I beeped my horn to get the young mother’s attention…and I did.  I shrugged my shoulders and raised my palms to skies, then held up two fingers and pointed to the back seat at the kids, shrugged my shoulders again and simulated talking on a cell phone.  I’m not sure what I was trying to accomplish, other than to make her think about what she was doing, how dangerous she was being.  I wished I would have had someone else with me, who could have pointed my camera at her, that might have made her think, I don’t know.  Instead, it didn’t seem to phase her at all.  In fact, I think it just made her angry, as she looked at me and mouthed the words, “F*&^ You!!” accelerated and left me in her dust.  I’m not even sure she stopped texting when she gave me the finger.

Again, I’m not claiming to be the safest driver on the highways, I know I drive faster than the speed limit.  But I shake my head in disbelief at times wondering what the heck some people are thinking.  How can someone reasonably expect that other drivers will be more respectful and careful after seeing two “CAREFUL! BABY ON BOARD!” signs, when the person driving that vehicle is being so careless?

As I sit here catching up on the last of the local news stories, I’m happy to say I haven’t seen anything on an accident involving a black SUV with 2 young children…yet.  It’s a small consolation I guess, for now, but I can’t help but feel she just got lucky this time around.  While accidents in general are inevitable, when the day comes, and it inevitably will for her, I fear hers will have been very preventable. Think before you do anything that will take away from concentrating on your driving.

Derrick Curtis (“DC”) is a Sergeant and Lead Instructor for Pre-Deployment Training for the Canadian Forces (Canadian Army) currently stationed in Kingston, Ontario. A member of the Special Forces and Airborne, he has served in the Middle East, Africa and former Yugoslavia, as well as having served as a bodyguard for military VIPs. He also was a popular part time DJ at several of his assignments.

Father of four, DC is a skilled hockey, soccer and badminton player and has been known to do a mean karaoke when he’s not DJ’ing at local pubs.

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