Complacency may feel nice, but danger can lurk

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As a hobbyist woodworker and amateur wood carver, I learned long ago the importance of being attentive to the task at hand.

For more than 45 years I have been using a variety of power tools that demand respect, as the consequences can be painful and even life altering. For example, when using very sharp carving gouges to shape wood, always remove the wood by carving away from your other hand, so if it slips bad things won’t happen.

I have a couple of scars to validate this wise advice, but despite mistakes, I still have all my fingers intact.

Driving an automobile is similar to woodworking in a number of ways.

If you have a television in your workshop, there are times when it needs to be turned off.

Hand sanding a project is a safe activity where you may be able to divide your attention between the television and the project, but it isn’t a good idea to be following a pattern on a scroll saw with your fingers less than an inch from a screaming saw blade while watching Monday Night football. Likewise, driving requires focus, or the results can easily be disastrous.

Complacency is a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc. Isn’t that exactly what we are dealing with when we only are only partially attentive to our driving?

An example of complacency is the two Northwest Airlines pilots who overshot the Minneapolis Airport by 150 miles, because (they say) they were on their laptops. I saw a disturbing two-panel editorial cartoon shortly after that incident. The upper panel showed two airline pilots concentrating on their laptops, oblivious to their responsibilities.

The lower panel showed an automobile driver texting while driving down the road! The cartoonist could have just as well inserted a lower panel showing a driver on their cell phone, looking at CDs, tailgating, speeding and so forth.

The major reason there have been 839 traffic collisions in Walla Walla so far this year is because we as drivers often become complacent and do not always appreciate the seriousness of our responsibility to ourselves, our passengers and others on the roadway. Part of this has to do with the routine nature of driving. We have driven this route numerous times without incident, so why should this time be different?

Another reason for complacency has to do with making unwarranted assumptions about our driving environment. Drivers tailgate because there is a disconnect between the danger they are unnecessarily placing themselves in and their perception of physics involved in such things as reaction time and stopping distances.

Likewise, we are tempted into distraction by features inside the car that 40 years ago didn’t even exist. It started with radios and 8-track tapes and now we have GPS systems, CD players, televisions and cell phones.

Even the innovation of cup holders provided another way to divert our attention from the task at hand. All of these features are convenient or entertaining and may make our lives easier, but they should be appreciated for the effect they can have on how attentive we are to our driving.

I learned about shop safety from my father and Mr. Fred Gritman, my Dayton High School wood-shop teacher. They both admonished me to respect power tools for the injuries they could inflict in a split second.

When taking driver’s education, we were all lectured on the potential dangers of driving, but with all the things that have become commonplace in and out of our cars these days we must continue to fight that urge to become complacent, because colliding cars can also inflict serious injuries in a split second.

Capt. Gary Bainter is Patrol Division commander for the Walla Walla Police Department. He can be reached at gbainter@ci.walla-walla.wa.us or 524-4372.

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