I got my permit last April; my license, last October. In those eleven months, I drove on the freeway around five times, each with an adult coaching me in the passenger seat. The reason for my minimal freeway expertise? I am terrified.
Perhaps my apprehensions about the freeway—darting cars, a lack of stoplights, merge lanes—seem silly to some readers. After all, you are more likely to get into an accident on a road rather than a highway, according to Caltrans. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) maintains that 50 percent of all fatal and injury collisions “occur at or near intersections,” which freeways have none of. Provided that statistics show greater risk of accidents in my drive to school than a drive to San Francisco, why should I be so fearful of the latter?
My rationale is simply a lack of trust. Ask any adult; roads are much more congested today as opposed to twenty years ago. An overcrowded interstate highway combined with excessive speeding, cell phone use, and intoxicated drivers creates an urgent hazard.
Helping to teach me how to drive, my grandfather once gave me valuable insight on just how fast a car can move. He explained that twenty-five miles per hour is the equivalent of nearly thirty-seven feet per second. Hence, if an obstacle appeared two car-lengths ahead of you in the road (around thirty feet), then a split second (around ⅛ of one, to be exact) would determine your ability to brake in time.
The analogy applies to any scenario while operating a vehicle. Cars traveling on the freeway move at a speed of approximately one-hundred feet per second. Accordingly, reaction time shrinks enormously. Any impairment or distraction destroys a driver’s chances of responding in time to prevent an accident. Looking down at a text demands a few seconds, if not more. Driving under the influence demands a one-tenth of a second decrease in reaction time.
To many behind the wheel, a split second interference with their focus seems acceptable.
“Hey, what will one glance down do?”
“I can drive, I’m not that drunk.”
To those, I say that one split second, let alone seconds plural, is ten to one-hundred feet of movement. And tens of feet of movement, without attention to the road ahead, poses an immeasurable threat of crashing.
In summary, I find truth in Briston Maroney’s fervent song, “Freakin’ Out on the Interstate.” For, when I try to merge into sixty-five miles per hour traffic, cars ablur, I could not be freaking out more.