From a scientific perspective, we live in a truly curious four-dimensional world: length, width, depth, and time. When viewed from “outside the box," the chances of anything cohesively existing simultaneously in all four dimensions at any given point is infinitesimally small. The chances of any two cohesive entities attempting to coexist in the same point is even smaller.
However, every year someone attempts to beat the odds. I remember a day during a recent summer when events converged into one such point with disastrous results. Approximately 800 pounds of steel, plastic, rubber, and human flesh attempted to occupy the same space as a separate unit of steel, glass, rubber, and human flesh.
In simple terms, a car made a left turn in front of a motorcycle. The motorcycle was traveling at a sufficiently high speed as to preclude much of an opportunity for turns or evasive maneuvering. The rider was an experienced rider who knew the proper application of emergency threshold braking. However, velocity was greater than friction and without a sufficient amount of time to reduce the velocity, the equation was unbalanced and destined for disaster.
Changing a part of the equation
Any part of the equation probably would not have resulted in tragedy. Riding slower would undoubtedly helped. If the driver of the car had taken a second glance and perceived the truly high speed at which the cycle was approaching, that would have helped. If the cycle had been another few yards forward or backwards of its rendezvous with destiny, things would have turned out differently. If the driver of the car had pulled away from the stop sign at a higher or slower rate of acceleration and/or turn angle, a collision may have been averted or less severe. As it was, the teeth on the key lined up perfectly and the lock opened.
An external observer may have noted that this particular intersection exists for only a brief span of years in the vast tapestry of time. For a majority of this brief span of time the intersection is empty of vehicles; cars pass through in a few seconds while it stands vacant for minutes or hours. The observer may also note the coefficient of friction of the roadway surface, the braking efficiency of the motorcycle, the weight of the car and the cycle, the approach and departure angles of the vehicles, and physical evidence such as impact marks and blood spatter on the pavement.
These observations and measurements may be mathematically analyzed to indicate speed, perception/reaction time, and a host of other scientifically valid information. The crash can be digitally reconstructed to show a frame-by-frame reenactment.
However, no matter how much data is analyzed and how many calculations are performed, the true story can never be electronically conveyed. The depth and breadth of the incident are portrayed by weeping relatives; by an empty seat in a classroom the following semester; by grieving parents who have only fading photographs to remember a son or daughter; by a driver who has to live with the consequences of a mere second of inattention for the rest of a lifetime.
Please, slow down, wear a helmet, pay attention to your surroundings, and drive defensively. Reading a text or winning a cycle race may seem important at the time, but moments later it could be the worst (and last) choice you ever made.
Officer Rande Repp is with the Salina Police Department