Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reasonable and Prudent

I can remember when Montana had a non-numeric "reasonable and prudent" speed limit. Montana Code Annotated (MCA) Section 61-8-303 said "A person . . . shall drive the vehicle . . . at a rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions existing at the point of operation . . . so as not to unduly or unreasonably endanger the life, limb, property, or other rights of a person entitled to the use of the street or highway."

Of course, people wrung their hands with worry, assuming that no speed limit would mean unsafe roads and lots of accidents. I'm sure more than a few sighed in relief when the reasonable and prudent idea was challenged, and it was after a 50-year-old guy got stopped in midlife crisis in his Camaro doing 84 mph on Highway 200. He was given a ticket, which he appealed in supreme court. Basically, the court ruled that the limit was too vague and violated the Due Process Clause of the Montana Constitution. So by July of 1999, Montana roads had posted speed limits of 75. And I'm sure all the Nervous Nellie's emitted a sigh of collective relief. Whew! Thank God! We're safe! But you know what? The opposite was true. Research found that Montana roads were at their safest when there was no limits. Why would that be?

And you're also probably wondering, Wendy, why are you talking about something so boring?

I guess I think we all need to keep this "Reasonable and Prudent" idea in mind when walking down the street. No, I'm not talking about walking speed. I'm talking about living day to day. On a daily basis we have laws and rules to follow--rules issued by government, by work places, in schools, in our very homes, and most importantly, there are the rules that we self-impose and never question.

I'm not advocating a shrugging off of all rules. I'm not advocating anarchy. I'm advocating operating the human vehicle in a way that is the equivalent to the way things are currently stated in Montana law. Montana law still contains a section that says "a person shall operate a vehicle in a careful and prudent manner and at a reduced rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions existing at the point of operation, taking into account the amount and character of traffic, visibility, weather, and roadway conditions."

In other words, the way you operate day-to-day is very much a product of you being able to read and gauge what's going on around you. How's the mental traffic in your world? Is it mental rush hour? Bumper to bumper huh? Well, God damn it. It's your life. You've got choices. So maybe your first instinct is to get pissed, to pump your fist at the sky and curse your situation and those who seem to be responsible. Yeah, you can do that, but if there's one thing I've learned, cursing a traffic jam doesn't get it unjammed. So stay home. Or take a different route. Or meditate.

Sometimes the traffic isn't mental. Sometimes, it's literally those immovable clods around you or the ones who make poor decisions, the ones who ride your ass, the ones who leave their metaphorical blinkers on. You know the ones. There are all these people around you who don't do the right thing. Again, you've got choices. Are you going to road rage? Or can you see behind their windshield and know they've got their own things going on? Yes, they just sat for an hour at a green light. Yes, they waved for you to go at the 4-way stop when it's not your turn. Yes, they took up two parking spots. The point is, you've probably done some of those things yourself at one time or other. I'm not saying you have to be all nicey nicey or that the Golden Rule always works, but it's worth a shot.

I think the most important thing to keep track of is weather. It only makes sense to slow down in a blizzard. It makes sense to put the pedal to the metal when the sun shines. Some days the hazards won't be as obvious as a blizzard. Sometimes it's black ice. The black ice is a tough one. Of course you don't want to be too careful, too fearful because it might not be there at all. There are some risks. If we all drove every day according to what might happen, we'd be driving 5 miles per hour and in bubble-wrapped cars.

It recalls for me the scene last Thursday night as I drove my boyfriend home from the airport. It was raining hard. The rain made it impossible to see at times, and that was amplified by the steady serpentine of headlights coming in the other direction. Every time a car or truck would pass in the other direction, the windshield would be obscured for a brief and scary moment until the windshield wipers did their job. And perhaps scariest, the chances of hydroplaning were high because of the everyday condition of northwest roads. People use studded tires for traction in snow, and those tires leave deep ruts during other seasons--ruts that fill with rain. We drove home in silence, except for Mike pointing out my strategy: to keep up my speed by straddling those rain-filled ruts. He's a product of the East. He said he'd never thought of that. I don't think it's in any driver's ed manual; it's something I feel like I've grown up knowing. It the sort of reasonable and prudent decision that comes with age--it comes from driving the same roads all your life and knowing those curves by heart.

Of course the same roads you've driven all your life will look different on different days. And of course life dictates that we can't always take the roads we're familiar with. But the beauty of "reasonable and prudent" is that you deal with it as it comes. After all, you're the one in the driver's seat, the one with your foot on the gas. You're the one with so much potential, with so many places to go.

1 comment:

  1. I love your writing and the way you look at things Wendy. Definitely words to take to heart.