The Fear of a Car Accident

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When you are in an accident, many things go through your mind. It is a scary situation to be in a violent car wreck and summons the courage to get behind the wheel again. Perhaps you may have awoken to the reality that city driving is deadly business, and this fear came from this realization. Perhaps you had seen the future days of your life stretched before you, riddled with long and deadly rides through a gauntlet of possible fatal disasters. Much more likely, however, you were in terror of explaining the incident to your family (the vehicle had the look of a family car, possessing ample seating, very little flash and more years on it than our young driver’s license and registration), or to the insurance company.

In fairness to evolution, we must consider the dizzying cost of automotive insurance for young males, which could justify some fear. That being said, the life-ending terror with which a driver lifted his hand to his face was deeper than any worldly concern should have inspired. It would look as if the driver somehow expected to die. He still had the fear of death, as if it could come for him slowly through his family’s disapproval or through the bill of an auto-body shop.

There is still one more element to this example, essential to our investigation of fear and dependent upon some educated conjecture. If a driver had accepted (or been assigned) responsibility for the collision, the likeliest cause is that he had been driving recklessly. Recklessness indicates a lack of attention to the dangers of the road. In other words, it indicates a lack of fear. If there is any truth in what our observations tell us, a driver feared no danger before the collision, but was gripped by dismal fear after the danger had passed.

This leads us to a conclusion about human fear. Our driver was accustomed to personal safety. In this illustration of a car ride, our driver’s mind rejected the possibility of a violent death, assuming the road to have the same normative, safe conditions as home life. At the same time, when faced with danger, the mind accepted that worldly concerns (such as the disapproval of family or the frustrations of money, among the gravest misfortunes our driver had yet faced) were to be feared as death. One might even conclude that the prevalence of safety in our driver’s world, by encouraging his mind to reject the possibility of death, allowed him to drive without respect of danger.

No development in automotive safety could improve one’s chances of survival under these driving conditions.

There is, however, little to recommend the opposite conditions: drivers operating constantly under the frenzied and irrational influence of crippling fear. Fearless and fearful drivers resemble those who drive too fast or too slow: at times equally harmful, but in different ways. Rather, one imagines ideal conditions where each driver is acutely aware of operating a weapon of killing force, and maintains a rational sense of perspective about the road’s possibilities, including death. These conditions are ideal rather than practical for many reasons, but perhaps chiefly because of the confused and contradictory nature of fear as it is experienced by the human species. On the road, then, there is no firm divide between danger and safety.

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