Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

U.S. Interstate 95 forms a long black ribbon of highway from Miami, Florida to the Canadian border between Houlton, Maine, Woodstock and New Brunswick. Travelers can access any major city on the Eastern seaboard and because of that, it is the favorite of long-haul truckers, tourists, snowbirds, and every-damn-body trying to get to Florida.

I was one of those folks last week, planning to escape the US for a week or so at a client’s guest house in the Bahamas. I had only to drive to Jacksonville, Florida and hop on a plane, and the rest was smooth sailing. As I crossed the St. Mary’s river, forming the border between the states of Georgia and Florida, Interstate 95 turned into a parking lot. All four lanes southbound were blocked, so I kicked over into the breakdown lane on the old Sportster and eased along to keep the motor from overheating. As I crept up the road, the Florida Highway Patrol was directing traffic into the opposite breakdown lane and I could slowly make out the carnage.

What was left of the bike was unrecognizable – the fairing was in one lane, broken bits nearly unrecognizable scattered for hundred of yards down four lanes of highway – and the Honda Civic crushed under the guardrail was not much better. Two ambulances sat ominously on the side on the road – lights and flashers on, and no first responders moving fast. That told me that no one made it out of this wreck alive. Since I still have the benefit of LEO credentials from my service a lifetime ago, I dropped the kickstand and asked one of the troopers on the scene what had happened.

He explained, once he saw I was ex-law enforcement, that the driver of the bike had, once he crossed into Florida, attempted to take off his helmet while driving approximately 75 miles per hour. (Florida has no helmet law). Somehow, the wind caught his lid and caused him to overcompensate for the move and he laid the bike down. The kid driving the Civic behind him was texting and never saw the cyclist until he hit him. That kid lost control and put the car into a high-speed skid and was killed when his car hit the guardrail. His passenger died while the EMTs were trying to cut him out of the car.

Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.

Whose fault was it? Ultimately, one of our own, too busy trying to be cool and not safe, caused the deaths of himself and two kids in a car. I looked it up a few days later, and he left a wife and two children behind him. The kids in the car left parents, siblings, and their whole life in front of them on that long stretch of interstate late that afternoon – all because of a single decision. Loud pipes didn’t save anybody. Nine hundred pounds of big bike went unnoticed, and what one rider thought was going to be a great weekend turned into his last ride.

Be careful, guys, because in the end, the only controls we can exert in our world are our own.

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