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There are only a few things that I would admit really scare me. I don't like the dark, and I'm really not a fan of needles, but it’s not to a heart-stopping degree by any means. I dislike gore, and I'm a little wary of ferris wheels, but that doesn’t interfere with my daily life. The one thing that really gets to me might be a little unexpected, and it’s certainly not out of a horror movie or lurking in the dark.
It's you, speeding down my street in your car.
I’ve been a driver for over seven years now. During that time, I've been in three accidents, one of which involved a commercial-size tow truck slamming into the back of my Mini Cooper. None of these accidents were my fault, and they were each terrifying, but that's not why I'm afraid of the road. I’m not scared of the dangers of being in a car, as real as they may be, but the risks one faces when outside of a car. Maybe I’m a bit too paranoid, flinching every time a car roars by or a horn is honked, but I think I have a pretty good reason.
Growing up, my family always had pets. As an introvert who connects more readily with animals than humans, I was always grateful for the companionship, and found myself extremely attached to our furry family members. The first of these pet pals was named Taylor. A scruffy black dog, Taylor was some form of a terrier mix, and I loved him to pieces. My parents picked him up from the mall when they were first married, long before I was born, so I grew up with him as my playmate and protector.
When I was eight years old, my family went out for a nice summer bike ride. My sister was still quite young, so we didn’t get very far, and soon we were headed back home to Taylor. We opened the garage door, and for some unknown reason, stopped to hang out in the driveway. Maybe we were talking to a neighbour, or maybe we just wanted to soak up a bit more sunshine. My memory gets a bit soft on the details of this story, most likely my mind’s attempt to protect me from its contents.
We lived in a small closed-off community on a road that cars seldom drove down and children often played in. It was safe, and people were careful, so when Taylor came running out of the house to greet us, we weren’t at all alarmed. We gave him pats on the head and said hello as we took off our helmets. And when he ran across the street to greet a neighbourhood dog on the opposite sidewalk, we didn’t flinch. This was a 30 km zone with no blind corners, and there was no danger in sight.
But then everything switched into slow motion.
My dad saw the truck first. It was a large garbage truck hurtling down our street, right toward us, and although it had a high vantage point and could hypothetically see what was happening ahead, it didn’t slow down. My dad started to yell Taylor’s name, first in a regular dominating tone, and then he started screaming. We all started screaming.
Taylor answered our calls, but much too late. He stepped into the road just as the truck was about to come parallel to our driveway. I often wonder why someone didn’t just run across the street and grab him, but in reality the truck was just moving far too fast. We didn’t even realize how fast it was traveling until Taylor was underneath the tires.
In my memory, the moments before Taylor was hit are layered with high pitch frequencies and panic. My whole family standing on the sidewalk, screaming, powerless against this machine, this vehicle. Taylor looked up at us from under the truck, his eyes filled with fear, and took a step toward us just as the back tires rolled forward.
When the truck finally stopped, all that was left of our dog was a pile of blood and bones smeared across the asphalt. The memory of his body disappearing under than rubber tire is forever burned into my memory. The scene was so horrific that the driver of the truck, nearly sobbing, came over to tell us he was quitting his job. He had been speeding, and he couldn’t forgive himself for what he had taken from us. My dad was in such a state of despair that he had to be given sedatives. I was forbidden to look out the window while they cleaned the body off the road, though the memories had already been set into my mind. They wrapped what was left of our dog in his favourite pink blanket, and took him away.
I continue to carry the loss I experienced when I was eight with me today. Trucks especially make me nervous, but all fast-moving vehicles send a chill down my spine. I have however, been able to turn this horrific experience into something relatively positive. I am a ridiculously careful and calculated driver. I constantly scan the road, never take unnecessary risks, and slow down on residential streets. For me, driving isn't a joke, it's a really big responsibility that far too few people take seriously. I don't turn my music up too loud, make phone calls or mess with the radio, and I never text and drive. A car or truck can kill easily, I've seen it first hand. People, animals, and children are struck and killed daily by vehicles, and in a lot of cases the accident would have been avoided had the driver paid better attention and taken their time.
I understand we all get rushed sometimes. Appointments, work and school all demand we arrive at a certain time, and sometimes speeding a bit can make the difference between being late and being right on time. I understand people should watch their children better, look before crossing the road, and keep their dogs on leashes at all times. But the truth is they don't, and as the person in the big machine it's your responsibility to look out for them.
So do me a favour: Set your clocks ahead and slow down. That split second where you hit the gas and take a gulp of coffee may mean nothing now, but it could lead to an accident that stays with a child for her entire life, or worse, an accident that takes a child's life altogether. As you hurtle down the driveway tomorrow morning to beat the rush hour ask yourself: If someone's dog runs into the road right now, would I be able to stop?