when to call 911
I was rolling down the road, belting out the chorus to Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” when a white Volkswagen zig-zagged in front of me, cutting me off. I watched the car tailgate and nearly hit someone who was driving the posted speed limit, then nearly wreck another car it tried to pass on the right shoulder of the road.
Following behind the white car, I watched the driver roll through a second stop sign.
No pause. No hesitation. Nothing.
I couldn’t believe it.
Eventually, we came to an intersection where the light was red. I slowed to stop, but the white VW sailed right through.
Something has got to be wrong with that guy, I thought.
I never thought I’d catch up to that zoom-doom car as it weaved its way down a busy stretch of road, lined with shops and gas stations and restaurants. With so many destinations, it’s easy to lose someone. But as luck would have it, a train was coming. The crossing gates had gone down, forcing a long line of cars to idle, waiting.
The white VW was right in front of me. The driver honked twice.
I couldn’t help myself.
I got out of my car. Tapping on the dark glass with my fingertips, I waited to see the face that went with the driver.
I expected to see a boy, a teenager hurrying to get back to school — or a man. Clearly, there was some serious testosterone in that car.
But when the window whirred down, a woman about my age stared back at me. She was wearing enormous designer sunglasses with pink lenses.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Of course.” The woman tilted her head to the side. “Why?”
I shouted over the train’s rumble.
“You rolled through a few stop signs and a light. Did you know you did that?”
I expected the woman to offer some explanation for her recklessness. Or, at least, to qualify her behavior. I could understand if she had to get to the school to pick up a sick child. I could understand if she was hurrying to get to her mother’s house. Maybe her mother had called to say she had fallen and she couldn’t get up. I needed to hear her say she was driving herself to Urgent Care because she was bleeding and in pain. I needed to know she was rushing home because she realized she had left her oven on. Hell, I would have been okay if she had admitted to rushing to the grocery store because she was out of sugar.
Honestly, I just needed to know she was okay.
That’s a lie.
I wanted her to apologize and acknowledge she’d been driving recklessly.
But the woman in the pink sunglasses looked at me like I was a cockroach she wanted to flatten with her fist.
“Stops signs and stop lights are stupid,” she said.
I didn’t know what to say.
Because what do you say to that?
As she rolled up her window, I hurried back to my car and slammed my door. The rumbling noise of the train was muted, but the noise in my head was not.
I copied down the woman’s license plate on a piece of scrap paper.
I considered what would happen if everyone drove the way that woman drove. What if everyone thought stop lights and stop signs were stupid? Her disregard for the most basic rules of the road scared me. There have been times where I have sat at a stop light when no one else was around and thought: Duh, this is stupid. No one is even on the road. I should just go. But I don’t. Because the first rule I ever learned was something like: We stop at red, and we go and green.
I thought about the stop signs near the school by my house. I wondered if she ran through those signs, too. I imagined her white car hitting a child — mine or someone else’s.
I dialed 911.
Yes, I decided. It was an emergency.
I reported what I had witnessed, the conversation that had taken place. I reported my location and the license plate of the white car.
“You shouldn’t have approached the car,” the woman from dispatch scolded. “The driver could have been dangerous.”
I shivered a little. I hadn’t considered that.
The dispatch agent told me that unless an officer actually observed the car driving erratically, the driver couldn’t be issued a citation; however, she added, since I was able to provide a description of the car was and the direction in which she was traveling, she could get an officer in the vicinity to try to catch up to her.
By the time we finished our conversation, the train had passed and the crossing gate’s red and white arms that had held back traffic were going up. Traffic had started to move forward.
I have no idea if anyone ever caught up to the woman in the white VW, but I hope someone did.
Obviously, something was off that day.
Maybe she’d forgotten to take a necessary medication. Or maybe she’d been drinking. Or maybe she was just a really crappy driver. Whatever was going on, that woman needed to get off the road.
That afternoon as I drove home, everything felt fragile. I know nothing is solid, but I suppose in matters like safety, I prefer the illusion to reality. I need to know people believe in stop lights and stop signs. I need to believe there are more stable, kind people on the earth than dangerous, psychopaths out to do harm. I need to believe we are civilized.
Have you ever come across someone who has broken a basic safety rule and endangered others’ lives? What did you do? When do you decide to get involved?
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