The Safety Dance

Grinding Grid's Gears

Many years after my initial forays into college, in an attempt to start writing and make something of myself, I returned to a community college where I took a creative writing course. It was depressing for a couple of reasons:

1) I was older than the combined age of the students in the second row.
2) The professor peppered his language with “like” and “you know,” so the younger set could understand him.

For most of the kids, “creative” meant beginning sentences with capital letters and using relatively frequent punctuation. I decided I was on my own island, unobserved, and so I whipped up a doozie of a paper, putting a new spin on vehicle safety equipment. I sought to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that fatalities had increased each time a safety item had been introduced: Ford’s padded dash and dish steering wheel; power disc brakes; seat belts; air bags; high speed–rated tires; safety glass; and steering wheel-mounted radio controls, to name some obvious ones.

To enhance the spin, I conveniently left out the increased number of teen drivers and eliminated data-skewing states such as North Dakota. The net result was the same, though: Each time a safety device was mandated, fatalities increased.

Then I threw the spin in reverse: Safety items encourage drivers to take greater chances. I worked around that a bit, stapled the pages, turned it in.

I awoke 25 years after that class thinking, “What has been added to boats to make their operation safer?” An owner’s manual with dire warnings would be one. Warnings that getting behind the wheel can cause death transposed to stickers, so the boat looks like a minivan that just traversed the U.S., is another. Now, safety measures such as hull composition, engine sensors, gauges, AIS and even heavy rubrails are there to make life on the water better. But in the hands of a person with no water experience beyond a shower at 7 a.m. who hits the water in the biggest boat he can afford with the most power the dealer can install, even that might not be enough to prevent DBO (destruction by owner). It comes down to smart decisions by people.

I don’t have any idea, short of accident absorbing life vests and helmets, what can save lives during collisions or high speed groundings. That’s for people who know everything to tell us. A mandated operator’s license may help, but I think it should include some graphic pictures. Brakes, other than engaging “reverse,” would help … I dunno. But now you know what I think about when most people are dreaming of upcoming vacations. Like, I’m trying to watch out for our subscribers, you know?

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