I had a phone conversation with a potential killer the other day.
She was a very nice lady who I will call Lorraine from Rothschild - she didn't want her name in the newspaper. She called to complain about some people walking after dark on Military Road in Rothschild. Lorraine was upset because those people were wearing dark clothes and were hard to see.
"I nearly hit them," Lorraine said. "Could you do a story about how people should wear reflective clothing or at least carry a flashlight?" She also was angry at bicyclists who ride without reflective gear or lights, too. "It just makes me want to yell at them."
The conversation took a chilly turn when I told Lorraine my opinion about the matter, as a cyclist and runner who often is out at night. My contention, I explained, was that it's a driver's responsibility not to hit pedestrians or cyclists. If a driver cannot prevent himself from hitting someone walking alongside the road, even if the pedestrian is in dark clothing, he should not be driving.
Lorraine did not like that.
Upon reflection, I have since softened my stance. Lorraine's right. You're a moron if you wear dark clothes and walk on the side of the road at night. It's a potentially lethal mix of selfishness and hubris. By making that choice, you're increasing the chances of getting killed, and turning kind-hearted people like Lorraine into killers. That's bad for you, your family and Lorraine.
So put on a reflective vest, grab a flashlight or get off the side of the road.
However, Lorraine is not off the hook here. She's the one driving a machine of mass destruction. In the last five years, drivers of vehicles have killed more than 170,000 people in this country, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That's more than the death toll at Hiroshima, which was 135,000.
We started two wars and created untold pain and misery in this world when terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people on 9/11.
Last year, American drivers like Lorraine, you and me killed 10 times as many people, 33,561, in traffic crashes. That's almost twice the number of people who were murdered, 14,168, according to the FBI Uniform Crime report.
We rightly make a big deal about homicides, tracking down murderers in the name of justice. But we're downright blase about those who are killed by cars. Is it because we nearly all drive, and because in nearly all crashes, there is no intent to kill?
But dead is dead. The least we can do is take care when we get behind the wheel.