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Monday, May 5, 2008

Slow down, New Haven

Patience is a virtue that may just save a life — and gas costs, too

This is about patience. That word, that quality is increasingly old-fashioned and against the grain in our accelerating, hurry-up culture. But that’s deadly.
“Be patient; impatience is the enemy.” That’s what I say to myself repeatedly as I drive around these fast-paced New Haven streets, suburbs, highways and beyond.
I say this phrase in an effort to remind myself to slow down, take it easy, you’ll get there in good time.
We should all be trying to do this.
Why? Take a look around; you’ll see why.
On a recent Saturday morning I was driving down South Frontage Road, approaching Yale-New Haven Hospital, with my elder daughter in the passenger seat. She is 16, soon to start driving.
As we got close to the hospital, I saw a roadblock up ahead and a police officer diverting traffic. “That looks bad,” I said.
The following day, when I came into my office for the Sunday shift, I learned how bad it was. Here was our headline: “Yale med student ‘critical’ after being hit.”
The story reported Mila Noelle Rainof, just 27, a fourth-year Yale medical student who was on the verge of beginning her residency at a hospital in California, had suffered serious head trauma after being struck by a car on South Frontage Road.
When I called Yale-New Haven Hospital, I was told she was still in “critical” condition in the Intensive Care Unit. A few hours later, she died.
According to police, she was crossing the street when she was hit. A Yale School of Medicine official said Rainof’s view of the intersection of South Frontage Road and York Street apparently had been obstructed by a truck leaving a hospital loading dock.
The official said oncoming traffic apparently had the green light when Rainof tried to cross the street. Two cars were able to avoid her, but the driver of a third car, accelerating to get into the left lane and onto the highway, hit her.
All of the drivers stopped and tried to help her. Nobody has been charged in connection with the accident.
But based on the information released so far, I think impatience very likely played a part in this tragedy. Perhaps she was impatient to cross and didn’t wait for the “Walk” sign. Perhaps the drivers were impatient to get through that intersection and onto the highway and didn’t slow down when they saw that truck backing up.
Whenever I am behind the wheel and coming up on a confusing and potentially dangerous situation (such as a truck backing up at an intersection), I slow down. I ask myself, “Wait a minute; what is happening here?”
I’m not saying I’m a better driver than the next guy. But I haven’t had a motor vehicle accident in the past 15 years, so I must be doing something right.
A friend of mine once said, “Driving is the most dangerous thing we do.” It was so simple and so smart that I’ve never forgotten it.
Take a look around. You will see motorists routinely speeding through red lights (I saw it done Thursday on Sargent Drive), taking right turns on red lights when signs say not to do it, barely slowing down for “stop” signs and not giving space to bicyclists nor yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks.
Why? They are not patient. They think their lives are just too important to be made to wait.
When I teach my daughter to drive, the most important thing I will stress is patience.
And I thank all of you who have had the patience to read this.
P.S. Driving more slowly on the highway saves you gas!
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A follow-up on last week’s column about the media fixation on Barack Obama’s bad bowling: Obama has since then explained that his 37 can be attributed in part to the fact he finished just seven of the usual 10 frames. And he said two of those seven frames were bowled by a 10-year-old, another by a 3-year-old. Maybe now the world will realize Obama is a good enough bowler to be president.
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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