Sunday, October 12, 2014

Road remorse

It's very common, though still illegal, for bicyclists in Washington to "split lanes" or "filter"—they ride through stopped or slow traffic, in the same lane as cars.  It's obnoxious everywhere, but there's one spot on my way home from work where it's particularly common, seconds before I make a right turn.  Multiple times I've had to brake because someone on a bike was trying to pass me on the right while I'm making a right turn, or they hadn't stopped yet and looked like they intended to pass.  It's far from impossible that one day on the way home from work, one of those bicyclists will get into an accident either with me or another car turning right, and it's far from impossible that they would be seriously injured or die.

I imagine that if I observed a person dying from such a thing, my first quick reaction would be shock, and my next reaction would be "serves you right"—feeling that cosmic justice had been dealt to that person for their idiotic course of action.  And then some sort of pity because it is sad for a human life to be snuffed out, even if that human life did something stupid to cause it.

If my vehicle were the one that the dead bicyclist were to have collided with, I wonder sometimes how I would feel.  (I think about it once a week or so, actually.  I mentally work through hypothetical situations and consider how I would react to them constantly.)  It's hard to predict how one would react to an event of a greater magnitude and importance than you've experienced before in your life, and in fiction, the survivors of such things always seem to feel overwhelming guilt and self-pity, but I really don't think that would happen to me—I don't think that I would feel even a slight bit of remorse or guilt.  That person wouldn't have died because I hit him while turning right; he would have died because he rode his bicycle in an extremely unsafe manner and caused a collision with my vehicle.

The same is true for other situations that you see occasionally in fiction, such as the man driving through a residential neighborhood when suddenly a child darts out in front of him and there was no possible way for the man to avoid hitting the child, who dies.  I've thought about that one too, and while there are certainly people who would be haunted by such a thing for the rest of their life, I honestly don't feel like it would affect me in that way at all.  I would feel anger—anger both that the child or bicyclist had been so foolish as to have gotten themselves killed, and yes, selfish anger that their irresponsibility would inevitably cause me no end of headaches in the form of court visits, insurance hassles, and no on.

But I can't feel guilt without a feeling that I've done something wrong, and I don't see myself as a person who could so completely distort the facts to blame myself for those hypothetical deaths.  I'm nothing if not rational and coldly logical.

Is that normal?  Would a normal person be overwhelmed with guilt and remorse for their participation in a fatal accident that was absolutely not their fault?

In fiction it's considerably more common for a character to be overcome with a lifetime of haunting sadness for something that was at least partially their fault—a parent who had a lapse in judgement that led to the death of a child, or a drunk driver who hit an innocent bystander or another vehicle.  And those I can understand.  I rarely feel remorse because I rarely make decisions worthy of regret, but at least I can understand what it would be like to be paralyzed by a past great error.  But no, not the hypothetical running-over-the-lane-splitter scenario.