Asleep at the Wheel

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It's weird how thoughts come around, and how many of them come to me while driving. Last night I was driving my daughter home, after dropping off her boyfriend following her High School Homecoming dance. It was late, and she was tired after a full day. I was playing Mark Knopfler's rather sleepy sounding latest CD, and within a few minutes, she was laying her head back and getting a quick snooze.

For whatever reason, it's those moments when my children and/or wife are sleeping in the car, that I'm most sensitive to the trust that they have placed in me as a father and husband to drive safely, and, correspondingly, it's when I feel the most awareness of my responsibility to do so.

I could say that this thought is more relevant as my kids enter adulthood and begin making their own driving decisions. Certainly, it's part of being a parent. But it didn't start that recently. We learn responsibility gradually as kids and develop deeper understandings as we mature.

In my 20's, there were times when I would drive long distances on business a lot, and I'd drive "through" a period when I could barely keep my eyes open. This was somehow justifiable in considerations of distance, velocity, and expected time of arrival. And stupid. But I was aware of what I was doing, and it was very much a conscious decision to continue to drive. When I hear of accidents involving drivers who fall asleep, I suspect that they too made a decision to try to keep driving through their tiredness. It's not excusable.

I've since gotten wiser, and am quite willing to pull over either to stretch, grab a dose of caffeine, or take a short nap. Regarding the last, there is a faint recollection of Michael Jordan's father being killed at a rest stop where he was sleeping, but I don't dwell on it. I just recognize that you never know what will happen. We weigh risk without thinking about it, and often don't have to do so. The hazards of a rest stop are far less than the hazards of driving with eyelids closed.

As I drove last night, the streets weren't busy, but I couldn't help but wonder as cars passed if the other drivers were fully awake (and sober) and paying attention to their driving. Or perhaps they were alternately texting, eating a late night hamburger and coding their GPS. The ease of our travel is possibly makes us under-appreciate a life activity that consumes so much time and upon which we are so dependent, but it's so much a fabric of our daily lives that we do so with a presupposed expectation of arriving safely. After all, we do arrive safely. Except those rare times when we don't.

There's risk everywhere, and we tend to turn a blind eye to it until something bad happens - usually to others. We tend to process "bad news" rather than dwell on it, because if we did, consideration of the odds might become paralyzing. Life has risk. We can't avoid it, but we can manage it by being responsible for our behavior.

Which brings me to 6 year old Falcon Heene, who, it was believed, was carried aloft byHeene balloon his father's experimental hot air balloon across the skies of Denver earlier this week. I'll assume that those reading this, just for a moment, imagined themselves in the position of that child before shutting it off from the fear involved.

It has not yet been decided whether his father, Richard Heene, (and possibly the rest of the family) staged this as a publicity stunt, but I assume that Falcon's stating that he was hiding "for the show" will be thoroughly questioned by the authorities even if he is better coached by his father in the meantime.

In any case, this entire episode resulted from Mr. Keene's irresponsibility, and his actions deserve consequences. I would hope that Mr. Keene is presented with something similar to the following two options.

1) If it was not a hoax - Sanctions from the Colorado child protection services are warranted for recklessly endangering his sons by equipping an inadequately supervised hot air balloon in the backyard, or

2) Hoax - an invoice for all of the emergency services called into the effort as well as business costs from delayed flight operations at the Denver airport. Plus court fees. And community service. And... whatever else an offended judge might feel is deserved.

Fortunately, not all lessons must be learned from personal experience. But I hope Mr. Heene pays for his, if only to help others think responsibly about the things they do everyday.

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