When driving, get out of the bubble

Connect with your fellow humans, and don’t forget to wave

IT’S NOT OFTEN that I get a warm fuzzy feeling while driving these days. With new cars that are designed to go faster, seal off the outside world, and are raised so high off the ground you can no longer see the top of a child’s head in front of your hood, it’s no wonder that we can feel like we’re in our own little bubble in our cars. Living in pods or bubbles during the early days of COVID helped people to stay connected with friends or loved ones, but operating in a bubble while sharing the roads is not only unsafe, but it’s causing us to lose a sense of connection and empathy with others we share this space with.

The last time I had that warm fuzzy feeling behind the wheel was after I stopped for a pedestrian in a crosswalk at a notorious and confusing intersection in Somerville. This woman literally skipped through the crosswalk, while blowing me kisses as a signal of her gratitude for me stopping and waving her on. Whether she had been waiting to cross for over a minute, or she was just having a great day, I’ll never know, but her kindness and sense of connection truly made me realize how much I had been missing it while driving to and from work. Unfortunately, many drivers are checked out. Is our society as a whole checked out when it comes to human connection?

A town out in Western Mass has nicely painted messages for pedestrians before they enter crosswalks that say “Stop, Look, Wave.” In Ireland, the roads are so narrow in many parts of the country that they force drivers to slow down and navigate a friendly game of chicken to decide who will go first. Without fail, there is always a friendly wave of thanks between the two drivers. When was the last time a fellow driver waved at you in gratitude or recognition?

David Brooks, a columnist with the New York Times, is also feeling this sentiment on a wider scale, as he depressingly laid out in his opinion piece last month. He describes a crumbling society, starting with the concerning uptick in traffic fatalities in 2021, the highest we’ve seen since 2009. In Massachusetts, 414 people lost their lives on our roads in 2021, and if numbers don’t do it for you, that means that 414 families now have an empty seat at the table, and it’s likely that nearly all of these families did not get to say goodbye or have closure, as the vast majority of traffic fatalities are sudden, painful, and tragic events. If we consider serious injuries, the preliminary data from last year shows that there were 2,311 serious injuries in Massachusetts. These injuries often cause lifelong issues, requiring months and sometimes years of rehab, chronic pain, and disability.

Auto manufacturers create commercials that are designed to elicit feelings of freedom, speed, and the carefree attitude that we’re all yearning for these days. However, driving is not “fun” – it is a huge responsibility, and one that we all need to take a lot more seriously. Some cultures refer to the space or time between the living and the dead as the ”’thin veil.” I think of this concept often when driving, as I personally know how quickly life can end on the road in a split second if someone lets their guard down, or makes a bad decision. I see the road’s yellow center line and white lines as a thin veil. If someone in a car crosses over the line because they were distracted, speeding, impaired, asleep at the wheel, or aggressively passing another car that was just following the speed limit . .. . well that’s when, too often, lives are stolen from this world.

On a trip to New Hampshire last weekend, I was shocked to find our car surrounded by these massive pickup trucks, some weighing 6,000 pounds, many of them speeding. Without much thought, I automatically felt bullied. While these drivers, sitting 6 feet off the ground, might feel more secure in their beast of a vehicle, let’s stop to think how an elderly person feels while trying to cross the street in front of these trucks. What about your child?

Meet the Author

Emily Stein

President, Safe Roads Alliance
When it comes to purchasing your next vehicle, or simply how you choose to drive today, let’s rethink how we use and share these roads, and put yourself in the shoes of a child, who has every right to walk safely across the street on their way home from school. Remove yourself from the bubble that your car might be, and let’s make sure to connect with our fellow humans on the road. We owe it to each other.

Emily Stein is the president of the Safe Roads Alliance.