When I set out to cross the country by thumb earlier this year, almost everyone I know was convinced that harm would find me out there on the road.
One dear friend followed up on every post before I left by pleading with me not to go. He was certain that I would be assaulted, probably killed, maybe dismembered. So pervasive is our fear of the unknown.
What, you may wonder, does this have to do with holiday shopping?
Lately I’ve been bombarded with ads for a device that promises to assist me in escaping from a car before it sinks in a pond (this scenario presumes I have recently driven off a bridge). The “Safety Hammer” is a solid little gizmo the size of a small flashlight. At one end it’s got pointed tips that look like bullets; at the other end, safely tucked into the handle, is a razor knife.
The promise of this invention is that it will save your life – just cut the seat belt, smash the car window, then swim to the surface as your beloved Honda sinks beneath the waves.
Assuming that you can find the device at the critical moment. I’m quite sure that I would spend my final moments in a sinking car frantically searching the console and glove compartment for the device. I really need to get more organized.
How often do cars sink in water? There are about 15 million car crashes in the US every year. Fewer than 400 people end up drowning. Most of those drownings take place in five coastal states, and most of the deceased die from impact with the water, not slowly sinking as they frantically struggle to escape.
It is an infinitesimal risk, but it ramps up the pulse rate and has led to great sales for products like the Safety Hammer, which, conveniently, fits in a Christmas stocking.
Truth has a harder time swimming against the currents of fear. Speaking truth to fear is harder than trying to open the car door as your Honda sinks into the Hudson. Nonetheless, a few fast facts. Seat belts don’t need to be slashed – you can push the button. Car windows don’t break with a tiny hammer, no matter how sharp the tip. For that you need a gun.
Check this humorously written report from Car and Driver magazine https://www.caranddriver.com/features/caution-no-placebo-effect-beyond-this-point.
This very funny guy went to a junkyard determined to smash a window from inside a car with the Safety hammer – it was hilarious but unsuccessful.
In summary, you run almost no risk of finding yourself in a submerged car. If you do, you are probably already unconscious or incapacitated (I know, holiday buzz kill). If you happen to be one of the rare people to find herself in such a jam, no tiny seven dollar tool from Amazon is going to help.
But don’t you want to get one? Just in case?
No better way to show that you care than to make sure everyone you love has one of these glorified paperweights in their vehicle.
What, you may ask, does this have to do with hitchhiking?
Politicians discovered long ago that fear garners support by invoking fear. Marketers know that fear can get people to pull out their credit card without thinking twice. Usually it is fear of the other. Immigrants, people of a skin tone we don’t share, worshipers of a God we haven’t met. Tribes form the strongest bonds when repelling the invader.
What if the invader is us? What if we are the ones who have been occupied? Occupied by anxieties and worries out of proportion to their prevalence in the real world? Occupied to the point where we don’t realize just how safe we are.
Let’s give fear a break. And save seven bucks along the way.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Wear your seat belt (48% of people killed in car wrecks are unrestrained) and don’t get in a car with someone who’s drinking. That’s a safe bet.