Simple Choices, Big Complications
It’s Friday night after a long week. It’s one of those last warm days in September, where the tips of the leaves have started to turn golden, and your friends are having a bonfire in the next town over. You’ve had your license for a while now; the air freshener your mom bought you has since fought a losing battle against long rides from sports games and late night french fries and beach days. You hop into Bob, your trusty minivan, and leave home. The smell of early fall and freshly cut grass sweeps across the fields and into your car. You can hear the colored leaves crunch under your tires. Breathing in, you take a deep breath for the first time since school started. No homework, no sprints at practice, no alarm clocks. You think, for this one night, I’m free. Halfway through the ride, a sudden buzzing noise interrupts your daydreaming of pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin patches. It’s your phone. You thought you turned it on do not disturb mode. Hearing another buzz, you wipe your sweaty hands against the wheel. Mom and Dad have lectured you a few too many times since getting your license. Their message was clear: drive safe. Teachers have ingrained all the statistics into your memory: car accidents are the number one killer of teens and eleven teenagers die every day in car accidents. Still, you’re not one of those stupid statistics. You’re on a winding country road where the houses are scattered about, and you’re a careful driver. It can’t hurt to just lift up your phone quickly and see who texted you. What if it’s important? If you would check your phone, go to Result A. If you would keep driving, proceed to Result B. Result A: As you look downward and grab your phone, the car wheels skid on the edge of the crumbling road, thudding to the dirt. Before you have time to process what’s happened, your beloved aging minivan careens to the side. Slamming the breaks in a surge of adrenaline, you try to stop the car, but before you can, an impact shudders through the car. You’ve hit something, but you can’t tell what since your car is on its side. You pray there’s no people around, fearing that you’ve hurt someone. Once your breathing slows to a more manageable hyperventilation, you feel a warm ooze down your leg. It’s hard to think, as if your brain is filled with cotton, so you can’t figure out where the blood is coming from. Despite your dazed feeling, you hear a woman shout, “Jim, come downstairs! I think there’s been an accident!” Maybe you’ll drive again, allowing you to start over and make a different choice. Maybe you won’t be able to, judging from the teeth-grinding pain in your leg. As you lie in the car, you realize that you don’t get to choose anymore. The only decision making that will be left in your life is how to explain this to your parents. Result B: “The destination is ten minutes away; it can wait,” you tell yourself as you refocus on watching the road and enjoying the beautiful fall foliage. When you finally arrive and park your car, you check your text. It’s from your parents: “Have fun tonight with your friends and drive safe!” You send them a quick confirmation that you’ve arrived before you walk toward the glowing fire, sparks spiraling upward into the sky. The night has a kind of magical potential.
When you get behind the wheel of the car, you are in control of your fate and the safety of those around you to a large degree. It is not a lottery based off luck, or a novel where you are along for the ride; driving is a choose your own adventure story, where you determine the outcome. But if you’re not careful while driving, you could be reduced to just another story in the news.