Unless you're a cop or a member of the military, odds are the most dangerous thing you'll ever do is get into the car. By far.
But if you're like most people living in rural or suburban areas like the Metro-East, you drive, drive everywhere, and drive often. And you never give a thought that hurling along the crowded highway at a high speed in a metal canister loaded with highly flammable liquid might pose a hazard to your health.
The lesson of John Jablonski Sr.-- who sadly died in July 2003 when SIUE student Natalie Ingram-- fumbling for her glasses-- rear-ended him in her car at 65 m.p.h. on I-270-- is that it can and it does.
Car crashes are the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. They kill more than every other type of accident combined.
Jablonski's random fate should have served as a tragic wake-up call for all of us who feel invincible in our cars. We're in a hurry and insist on driving fast while multitasking behind the wheel-- just like Ms. Ingram at that very moment.
But as is the tradition in Madison County, such a terrible local tragedy hasn't opened eyes so much as it has created an opportunity to play the all too familiar blame game.
Sure, we call it an "accident" but someone-- preferably someone with deep pockets-- has to be at fault.
That isn't Ms. Ingram, of course, clearly culpable by any reasonable person looking at the case. It has to be the powerful Ford Motor Company, the multi-billion dollar multinational corporation who made the car. Just ask East Alton trial lawyer Brad Lakin.
Answering his prayers, a Madison County jury lit up Ford for $43 million in damages last week. Lakin stands to get some $14 million of it.
Ford was to blame, said Lakin and believed the jurors, because it should have known to put the gas tank somewhere where a speeding Ms. Ingram couldn't hit it. Right.
Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche recently told the Chicago Tribune that lawsuits are discouraging safety research and innovation by the auto industry because companies like his fear trial lawyers using their new techniques or technology against them in court.
"(They’ll say) we knew that our old system was deficient,” Zetsche said. "We've been sued for not having air bags and for having air bags-- and for not retrofitting old air bags with new air bags.”
Imagine that—- lawsuits like this one actually serve to make our roads less safe.
Corporate scapegoats are convenient, but here they truly perpetuate a false sense of road security. So we dart on with reckless abandon.
Brad Lakin might get his money from Ford, but the company won't ever be able to make an automobile guaranteed to protect you from a high-speed crash like John Jablonski’s. That we believe it can and should is a tragedy in itself.