Friday, May 16, 2008

SUVs and idiot drivers – a lethal road mix

I hate SUVs.

I know that sentiment doesn’t exactly make me unique. But I have a personal grudge against them. More specifically, I’m angry at many of the people who drive them.

Here's why: my eighty-year-old mother’s life changed forever this year, when a woman driving a luxury SUV blew through a stop sign (while yakking on her cell phone, of course). She barreled into the driver’s side of my mother’s compact little Subaru without ever slowing down.

My mother and her passenger, who had been driving back from tea, survived, but they were both injured. My mother fared the worst. After several months of care and physical therapy she recovered physically, but emotionally she will never be the same. She refuses to drive anymore. Practically overnight, she went from being an active, vibrant, confident senior citizen to a fearful shut-in. Even now, whenever she rides in a car, she’s terrified during the entire trip. That accident was the turning point that ushered in the moment in her life when she became truly old. Old, frail, and frightened.

To help Mom recover, one of my sisters moved into her house; the rest of us talked her into getting a lawyer. But we quickly discovered that the state of South Carolina has some incredibly antiquated laws regarding consumer protection. The most my mother could hope for, even with good legal representation, was repayment of the value of her car and the cost of her medical expenses. Nothing for pain and suffering. Nada. Not one red cent.

I’ve never met the woman who ran that stop sign, but I despise her. My mother will suffer for the rest of her life due to one nincompoop’s incompetence and inattention.

I’ve changed, too. I’ve become an enthusiastic advocate of strong consumer laws and litigation redress. I’ve even started to look favorably on the much-maligned trial lawyers—I think they've got their work cut out for them to change some laws in South Carolina. Hell, let’s cut right to the chase—get me John Edwards on the horn. He’ll know what to do.

I know my anger shouldn’t be directed exclusively at SUV drivers. Any driver can be dangerous and incompetent. But in California, anyway, SUV drivers are notorious for rudeness, lack of consideration, and poor driving and parking skills. They often drive like they own the road—especially the luxury SUV drivers. I’ve started glaring at them when they cram their behemoths into a compact parking space (at crooked angles), and when they cut me off in traffic. Pretty soon, I'll probably become one of those irascible note-leavers. I’ll shove little pieces of paper under SUV wipers with messages like, “How do you spell p-a-r-k, moron?”

Well, I hope they're enjoying their hundred-dollar tanks of gas, which is what it’s starting to cost in California. It's a small comfort that fuel costs are finally starting to kill the American consumer’s love affair with the humongo-mobile.

Already, SUV drivers around Los Angeles are trading in their vehicles for the current trend du jour, hybrids.

But at least against a Prius, moms will have a fighting chance. As for me, I'm thinking about attaching a pair of giant antlers to the front of my two-seater.
I want a little something pointy to greet the next yahoo who cuts me off.


Joe Moore said...

That’s sad news about your mother. Beyond the physical damage, the emotional harm is the most hurtful. I think this issue and so many others around us is a reflection of the slow but constant erosion of people’s willingness to accept the consequences of their actions. I hope your mother’s attitude about getting out and enjoying life improves and reverts back to the person you once knew.

Kathryn Lilley said...

Thanks, Joe! She has a much more forgiving attitude about the whole thing than I do. She is starting to get back outside and garden, which was always her great joy in life.

Linda O. Johnston said...

I'm so sorry to hear about the accident, Kathryn, and the effects on your mom's life. It's hard enough when a parent ages naturally, but to have a situation cause such immediate and abrupt changes must be especially difficult. Even as a lawyer myself, I've disliked the aspect of our legal system that allows people to sue over anything, but situations like yours make it clearer why the system works as it does. Here in California, people won't be permitted to talk on cell phones, other than hands-free, starting in July, but I assume that kind of law isn't in place in South Carolina or it might help a claim. Oh, and BTW, there are now hybrid SUVs. My mystery protagonist Kendra is acquiring a new Ford Escape hybrid soon!

Kathryn Lilley said...

Thanks, Linda. I know four-wheel drive SUVs are practical, especially on the east coast and when you have to drive in bad conditions. A local paper did an article about which parents ignored the driving rules when dropping off their kids at school. The writer, who had been doing "dad duty" at the school, said that the nicest, safest parents were the ones who drove older, unflashy cars. He said the rudest ones--and the most unsafe--were the parents in luxury SUVs. He said they refused to slow down, get in the correct lane, or get off their cell phones. They even expected him to open the doors and unload all their kid's junk!

Joyce said...

Sorry about what happened to your mom, Kathryn.

Don't get me started on bad drivers. As a secretary for a police department I get to enter all those reports into the computer. I just did one from an accident yesterday where one of the drivers was 97 years old!

My mother was in a bad accident before I was born and I only remember her driving once after that--in an emergency. No matter who was driving, she always rode with one arm stretched out with her hand braced on the dashboard.

Kathryn Lilley said...

I know what you mean, Joyce. My mother pumps imaginary brakes and actually lets out little screeches of fear when she's riding in a car with anyone. And the way some people drive, who can really blame her?

Camille Minichino said...

Heartbreaking, Kathryn. I hope your own enthusiasm for life will flow her way. Few things take away independence like an inability to drive oneself, for whatever reason.

Kathryn Lilley said...

Thanks, Camille. And you're right--it's that unexpected loss of independence that sometimes is the worst thing of all.

Terri Thayer said...

Kathyrn, I sympathize with you feelings about your mom. Let's hope some good restorative time in the garden gives her a new lease on life.

Melissa said...

I so understand what you're going through. 10 years ago this summer my family was in a car accident...a creep, rushing to the airport, ran a red light, crossed right in front of us and hit us practically head on. I wasn't hurt, my Dad hit his head on the wheel and was bleeding profusely. But my mom, who has suffered for years with severe scoliosis, was hurt the worst. The curvature of her spine was doubled. She is in constant pain everyday, with new aches and pains practically everyday. She hasn't driven since, refuses to travel, and just riding around in the car for everyday errands she's a nervous wreck. It ruined the rest of her life, and the guy got away scott-free.

Melissa said...

Oh, and moneywise, she was compensated for the book value of the car (which was 14 years old, but in mint condition) and medical bills, but just like your situation, nothing for pain and suffering. It is so unfair, and I'm sure the bum hasn't given it a second thought in the last 10 years.

Kathryn Lilley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathryn Lilley said...

Oh, Melissa, I'm so sorry to hear that about your Mom! It's just not fair for someone like the guy who hit you all to walk away without paying pain and suffering. The media likes to play up the rare over-the-top settlement, but I'd bet anything the "silent, suffering majority" of the injured don't get anything close to what they deserve in compensation!