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August 26, 2011

Safety

Proving you’re faster than someone else not worth the risks

By Rob Van Elsberg, Strategic Communication Directorate U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center

Was it worth taking the chance of never seeing my fiancee again just to prove I was faster than someone else?

I was home on leave in San Diego from my duty assignment in Hawaii. I’d met a girl while I was home the previous Christmas and had fallen in love with her and proposed. She’d accepted and we were engaged to be married.

It was summer now and I’d taken two weeks’ leave to fly home and spend some time with her and my parents. At the time, my means of transportation was a street bike. It was the biggest and fastest bike I’d owned.

My fiancee lived in a city about 12 miles from my parents’ home. I’d taken her out that night and was headed home when I got to an intersection with University Avenue — the main street running through La Mesa, Calif., where my folks lived. At the time, my clutch cable needed to be lubricated and I was having trouble smoothly pulling away from a stop. As I waited at the light, three guys pulled up in a car in the lane to my right. When the light turned green, I had to “goose” the throttle and slip the clutch a bit to get going. The guys in the car heard my engine rev up and yelled, challenging me to a street race. I thought, “Why not — it’s almost midnight and traffic is nil.” I knew I could put these guys in my rearview mirror.

I grabbed a handful of throttle and started working my way through the gears. I was in fourth passing through 85 mph and ready to shift into fifth and go for the money. Then I looked ahead and time seemed to freeze. On the left, I saw a bar, which was still open. I glanced at the cars in the parking lot. Was anyone getting ready to pull out? There wasn’t a concrete divider between the eastbound and westbound lanes. There wasn’t anything to keep someone from pulling across the road in front of me. In fact, would they even bother to look? And who’d expect me to be doing 80-plus mph on a 35-mph street?

Then I looked ahead to the next intersection. At the moment, the light was green — would it still be that way when I got there? What if somebody turned in front of me at the last second? By then I’d be doing more than 100 mph. Even if I saw them, I’d be going too fast to stop. My grandfather rode Harleys back in the 1930s. He once T-boned a car and was thrown halfway through the driver-side window. He’d suffered back pain ever since. And he wasn’t going half as fast as I was.

Then I thought about the girl I was going to marry.

On my hotness scale, she was a 10. I never thought I’d get lucky enough to have a girl like her. Was it worth taking the chance of never seeing her again just to prove I was faster than someone else? If I crashed, what would that do to her and our dreams of having a family together?

Then I thought about my parents. I loved them both and they loved me. I was only 21 — what would it do to them if I did something stupid and died within a mile of home.

In that moment, I had my epiphany. I realized winning a street race really didn’t matter much.

Sure, it might boost my ego for the moment, but how long was that good for? Besides, who would know except me and the guys in the car? And if I won, they weren’t going to tell anybody. Was that worth dying for?

I realized how crazy it was for me to gamble my life for nothing more than an ego trip. I rolled off the throttle and the car passed me. The guy in the backseat flipped me the bird and called me things I won’t repeat. By then, I could’ve cared less. So they insulted me — big deal, what’s that next to being dead? And what do I care what they think anyway?

Never since that night have I been tempted to street race.

Before composite risk management was invented, I’d used the process and it proved sound.

I’d identified the hazards, assessed them and recognized the only good control measure was to back off. And let me tell you from experience, the “supervise and evaluate part” has worked out well. I like being around to celebrate more birthdays.

When young Soldiers die in accidents, I think about all the years, relationships and good times they’ll never get. For a thrill, or maybe an ego trip, they got cheated out of three-quarters of their life and all that would have held.

When you choose not to be safe, it’s like playing cards with the devil. Who do you think is going to win?

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