Nearly every day I load my 11-month-old into the car and drive from point A to point B on some errand, my head filled with lists of what needs to get done on this day or the next and moderate irritation at the idiocy of other drivers on the road. In the past few days, however, that changed dramatically. I heard a story from a good friend about a mother she is close to who lost her child in a car accident.
I don’t know the details of the accident aside from the fact that this mother was driving and that her other two children were in the car. I don’t know who was at fault. I don’t know why it happened or how. I only know that her young daughter was killed and that her other children witnessed the tragedy.
When I heard this story, I was at a book club meeting; my friend wasn’t able to stay because she was on her way to console her friend and the family. It wasn’t until I went to bed that night that I allowed my mind to drift back to the story I had been told and the tears to flow for this poor woman and her surviving children.
The next day, I put my daughter in her car seat and drove to the library with her, and then spent a portion of the day running errands. My attitude behind the wheel was different. I put my phone in the diaper bag and left it in the back seat; I turned the radio down; when my baby fussed, I didn’t try to see her or reach back to let her know I was still there. I found myself being more patient with other drivers, and more mindful and aware of what they were doing as they made their way. My foot wasn’t heavy on the gas pedal and I was more ready than I’ve ever been with the brakes.
While I wasn’t actively thinking it, I knew that in the back of my mind keeping my baby safe had become a more powerful and intense priority.
Trust me, I know how frustrating it can be when you’re on the road and it feels as if every idiot has decided to leave their house at once and be in your way. I know how easy it is to succumb to that frustration and let it affect the way you drive, likely becoming more aggressive as you try to get through it. I understand the distraction of an important call coming through that you’ve been waiting for, or the need to text someone because you can’t find their stupid house for the birthday party you’re late to as your baby, sans nap, is screaming or throwing toys in the back seat.
But please—please, please, please be safe. Put away your cell phone, and when you need to talk or text, pull over somewhere. If your child is screaming bloody murder behind you, take a deep breath and pull over or get home. If you’re feeling irritated at other drivers, pull over and calm yourself down. Don’t speed—it’s not a race. Behind the wheel of a car is the one place above all others that you need to have your head on straight and be aware of what’s going on around you. Be safe. Keep your babies safe. Keep other people’s babies safe.
The woman in the story will forever blame herself, whether or not she was at fault, for the death of her child. Her surviving children will hold the image of their lost sister for the rest of their lives. It may not have been preventable; it may have been just one of those awful things. But if her story can influence others to drive safely, shouldn’t we give her that, at least? She deserves it.
(This piece was also published at Huffington Post.)