Split Second

My company has a very active safety office. My work environment is quite dangerous, and we do everything we can to keep accidents to a minimum. To keep everyone’s safety awareness at maximum, a “Picture of the Week” is hung in the main lobby. The pictures usually come from the Navy’s Safety Center web site. They always show an unsafe situation with a little descriptive write-up that has a moral or take-home point. The pictures are usually interesting, so most people stop and look each week. It’s hard to say what impact this has on safety as practiced in the plant, but accidents have been on a down ward trend since this practice was instituted.

I can’t get this week’s image out of my head.

Look closely at this picture of a person caught on film while running a red light. What initially looks like a big trash bag flapping past the passenger window is actually a man in a white shirt being thrown through the air after being hit. You can see his brief case flying a few feet in front of a pair of petrified pedestrians.
Aside from the obvious lesson about not running red lights and paying attention, which the driver doesn’t seem to be doing at all, there’s something more important to be learned from this poor fella’s pummeling. It can be summarized in eight words: Look both ways before you cross the street. “Yeah, but there was a red light and he had a “walk” sign,” you say? True enough, but that didn’t do him much good, now did it?
Folks, just ’cause you have the right of way doesn’t mean others are going to give it to you. If you’re crossing the street, especially at an intersection, be extra alert. Make eye contact with drivers to make sure they know you’re there. And if a vehicle looks like it’s not slowing down … it probably isn’t.

Sometimes your life changes in a single instant. I know that, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photograph that has made me realize that fact in such a visceral way. The obvious questions rise immediately to the surface: Who was that man? Was he killed? Was he crippled for life? Did he have a wife, parents, a family? What did he do for a living?

Once I stopped staring at the central event of the picture, I started taking in the rest of the picture. That car, is it a Chrysler? It looks to be a man driving, but it could be a woman. He or she isn’t even looking at what happened. Both hands are gripping the steering wheel, and the eyes are looking fixedly ahead. Does the driver even realize what has happened? Or is he so hell-bent on getting to where he was going that he doesn’t care? Was he late for a business meeting, or driving to the emergency room for a last good-bye with some loved one? What is it that compelled this person to drive straight ahead through the red without even turning his head? Even without answers to these questions, one thing is for certain. His life is never going to be the same again.

Look at the woman pedestrian. She’s in the process of taking in what is happening before her eyes. You can see the beginning of a scream, and the tilt of her body indicates she’s stopped in mid-stride. Has she even had time to realize a man has been hit? Or is she still caught in the split second of knowing something has gone terribly wrong but not quite grasping what has occurred? The male pedestrian is caught in mid-stride. He’s been slower to realize what just happened and still wears a look of curiosity. Shock hasn’t had a chance to surface yet. These lives have been changed in a single instant too.

Turn your attention to the station wagon stopped at the light to the left of the photograph. It could be a mother and her daughter. It’s hard to tell through the glare on the windshield, but the mother appears to have raised her hands to her head. What is clear is that the young girl has been caught mid-scream. She’s seen the whole thing, and has had time to react fully. What was the rest of her day like? Was she ever able to get the image of the accident out of her mind? Will she remember this the day she gets her learner’s permit? Will she go home and give her dad an extra hug that night? Will her mother? Years from now, when they are mother and grandmother, will they still talk of the day they saw that terrible accident? Their lives have been touched; how will it affect them?

I can’t get this image out of my mind.

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