Why Do Ads Encourage a Lethal Need for Speed?
If you can read this column in 10 minutes, you might get it done before someone in North America dies in a motor-vehicle accident. According to an ICBC report, 421 British Columbians did just that in 2000. If those people were dying of contaminated water or gang-related shootings, there would be an enormous outcry. But because their murders resulted from high-velocity impact, multiple fractures, traumatic disfigurement, and cerebral haemorrhage, no one is supposed to care. I find that hard to understand.
When I was young, I could not grasp why, in a country where no highway is engineered for speeds above 120 kilometres per hour, cars were manufactured that could achieve 180 kph, or more. Ever since I started asking why that is, I have never received an answer that you could say out loud to a psychologist and still stay outside of an institution for the severely mentally ill. The only remotely rational answer is, "People like to move fast, and there is a profit to be made from that, no matter how dangerous it is."
So, no matter how dangerous it is, and no matter that tens of thousands are killed each year in North America, we continue to wage this deadly war on ourselves so some corporations will be able to pay dividends to their shareholders. If you want evidence of this crime, just turn on your television for an hour or so. I guarantee you that within that hour you will see several commercials implying that the primary purpose of owning a motor vehicle is to experience the thrill of experimenting with how fast you can take it through a curve. It is like having continual commercials telling you how wonderful it is to cut off your head with a chain saw.
I offer the example of a good friend's son who knew all about curves because he was a world-class triathlete and could lean his bicycle at extreme angles against centrifugal force when he was trying to win a race. It was a technique he was developing because he couldn't get to the 2008 Olympics on his swimming power alone, despite holding the Canadian record for open-water swimming. He was perhaps our best hope for a 2008 triathlon gold, and there can be no doubt that he had motor skills, reflexes, strength, and intuitive awareness of his surroundings far beyond the abilities of the rest of us.
On the morning of July 9, he was driving a friend's car back from the lake cabin where he had been relaxing before a triathlon scheduled to take place in Edmonton that weekend. He slowed for a curve, but he was not paying full attention for a second or two, and he did not slow down enough.
It wasn't that much of a deal: he only lost the centre line by less than a metre, and he was only going 70 kph on the other side of the curve when he hit a semitrailer that had stopped because of engine trouble. He was going the same speed as the average driver on the Oak Street bridge hitting a stationary object, or two drivers in a city school zone colliding head-on.
As the car was crushed like a tin can being readied for recycling, half his body was instantaneously compressed by the airbag before it deflated, his ribs bouncing back outward unbroken but not before they had lacerated one of his lungs, causing it to collapse. Many of his internal organs were similarly smashed by the inertial shock, with his throat, lower intestine, and spleen also getting slashed by bones suddenly being where they shouldn't be for a split second. The concussive blow to the right side of his skull caused bleeding and pressure in his brain, cutting off neural connections to the entire left side of his body. It took six units of blood to replenish his circulatory system to the point where doctors could operate on him.
The folks who dealt with him after he was heli-jetted to Edmonton had an interesting tale to relate about that last problem, the blood loss. His pulmonary artery had ruptured, which should have killed him in about five minutes, but the collapsed lung had wrapped around it to slow the bleeding long enough to get him to the operating table.
Years of training, overcoming injuries, and dedicating his body to a rare level of fitness paid off. Within 36 hours of the accident, the CAT scans were showing swift healing in the affected brain areas. The doctors not only called off the idea of using shunts to drain liquid from his skull but, after another 24 hours, they also stopped administering the coma-inducing drugs they had been using to decrease pressure on his brain.
They said there had been some damage to his left-side motor skills. Less than 100 hours after the accident, a nurse moving him to prevent bedsores put out her hand as usual to fend off the expected defensive thrust from his right arm and instead felt his left hand pushing feebly.
"Ooh, he really does not like that," was her smiling response. When my roommate proudly told me how his eldest son had groped a pretty nurse's belly, I celebrated with him that despite the pessimism of the doctors, there was no doubt that Sean was regaining, repairing, or regenerating the brain functions that might have been lost forever. Then, just when everyone was expecting him to regain consciousness, his blood pressure spiked.
The best doctor in the world cannot tell you why that massive stroke happened. At this writing he has not regained consciousness so that he can ask why car manufacturers in their advertisements constantly recommend that their products be used irresponsibly. While he is still hanging on with the help of life-support, there has been minimal brain activity detected in the past week. Even if the age of miracles returns to give him back his mind, Canada is definitely out a contending Olympic athlete for 2008.
In the 20 years since he was born, he spent much of his life concentrating single-mindedly on his goal. Then he let his attention wander for a few seconds. He was no hot rodder, no street racer, and rarely drank, let alone drove impaired. But in a world where we let cars kill more people each year than we would ever tolerate in an all-out war, letting your mind wander for a few seconds can be tragic.