We had a tough week at work. A colleague, the kind of guy who you assume will outlast you because he does everything right, was killed last weekend in a motor vehicle 'accident'. I put accident in quotes because it's not really an accident when the other driver blows through a stop sign while speeding and kills you and your wife (and himself).
You'd be right to say I'm a bit angry about this, but I'm also rather desperately looking for a reason for it. That things can happen for no reason bothers me, but they do. They did nothing wrong. They were driving home after dropping their son off at university. They were driving in an SUV with a five star safety rating. I want there to be a reason (the guy who hit them was drunk, distracted, somehow incompetent), but I fear there is none; there is no reason why they are dead other than the most basic one: motor vehicles are inherently dangerous and a number of people who operate them aren't able to do so well enough to ensure your safety.
If we are going to let pretty much anyone strap themselves into a metal box powered by exploding gases and shoot themselves down roads at high speed, we have to accept that there is an inherent risk, no matter how capable they may be, of death. Whenever you get into any kind of motor vehicle you accept this risk, or you don't get into the vehicle.
It's generally understood that getting on a motorbike makes this calculus so obvious that people can't help but tell you (over and over) how dangerous it is. Those same people will go out and buy five star rated SUVs thinking they've beaten the odds. Those big vehicles mean you'll always come out of a minor incident, and if you find yourself in a lot of minor incidents then I suppose they make sense. Better to spend the money on a bigger vehicle rather than making efforts to reduce your inability. Driver training courses are significantly cheaper than operating a large vehicle, but pride prevents most people from considering them. We end up in an arms race with the most distracted, incapable drivers operating larger and larger vehicles for their own safety.
I've been trying to suss out government safety statistics. I have a feeling that people who have taken motorcycle safety training have fewer accidents than the general public. The kind of defensive driving presented to new motorcycle riders is foreign to most drivers in cages who don't respect the dangerous position they are placing themselves in. I suspect that there would be way fewer accidents if everyone had to ride a motorbike for the first year of their license. Exposure gives you a healthy respect for the dangerous mechanics of operating a motor vehicle at high speed.
Were I in my mini-van with my wife and son, I would have probably driven into this disaster just as that colleague of mine did. Were I on my motorbike, I'd approach that intersection with the same everyone-is-trying-to-kill-me attitude that I've adopted since my initial motorbike training course. On a bike I'd have sworn at the idiot who ran the stop sign after braking hard to avoid him. In an insulated motor vehicle, remote from the world around me, I'd have assumed I was safely following the laws of the road until it didn't matter any more.
Followup: just to make things weirder, this past week I died in a car accident (same name, similar age, lived about 100kms west of me) and a guy who started teaching at the same time I did and is a year younger than me also passed. Maybe this is just what getting older feels like, you see others around you dropping out of life and can't help but wonder why you're still here.