Driving hint: Open your eyes

January 14, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd

Tell me if this sounds reasonable and if it doesn't, fine, I won't bring it up again: If you're driving along and a squirrel darts in front of your car, it's probably not a good idea to let go of the steering wheel, cover your eyes and scream.

This is what my wife -- a very bright woman, but . . . well, never mind -- did the other day on a busy stretch of road.

As the lone passenger in the car, I became somewhat alarmed at the realization that a screaming blind woman who refused to hold the steering wheel was now in charge of my life. Then I began screaming myself, as I had this vision of the car leaving the road, becoming airborne and plowing through the picture window of someone's living room.

Thankfully, we did not die and neither did the squirrel, although when it was all over I wanted to kill the damn thing myself and parade his sorry little carcass around on the end of a broomstick.

As for my wife, she couldn't understand why anyone would get upset that she let go of the wheel, covered her eyes and screamed when the squirrel appeared.

"It's a perfectly normal reaction," she said.

"That is the reaction of a lunatic," I said, and of course we have not spoken since. Let me give you my reading on the whole thing, and see if it squares with yours.

It seems to me that when the driver of a car lets go of the steering wheel, he or she creates what might be called, in technical terms, a "safety hazard."

This is because the car will then go pretty much wherever it wants to go, and if the car plows into a telephone pole or smashes into a ditch, the driver certainly can't shake his or her head in amazement and think: "How about that?"

Now . . . the covering of the eyes.

Maybe it's me, but I have a real problem with people who cover their eyes while operating a motor vehicle.

By covering your eyes, you reduce your field of vision from roughly 180 degrees (minus the rear-view mirror) to, oh, zero degrees.

And a zero-degree field of vision seems unacceptable while driving, particularly when some suicidal squirrel runs in front of your car. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is why you don't see a lot of motorists driving with blindfolds or paper bags over their heads, either.

As for the panicky screaming, this, too, seemed an error in judgment.

Understand, screaming in and of itself is not necessarily bad, and there might even be a place for it in a car, such as if you're stalled on railroad tracks and you happen to look up and there is a train bearing down on you at 70 miles per hour.

But the fact is, I was already a little jittery when I saw her let go of the steering wheel and cover her eyes.

At that point, I thought only of death, and not the squirrel's death, either. I didn't give a rat's behind about the squirrel.

Add a piercing scream to all this and it jacks up the anxiety levels considerably.

Now don't get me wrong here. No one wants to see a squirrel flattened by a car. What kind of an animal do you take me for, anyway?

But by the same token, I would prefer that we not lose control of the car and plunge over a cliff and tumble end over end down a steep ravine before igniting in a huge fireball visible for many miles.

If we have to take out some dopey squirrel in order to avoid this, my feeling is: By all means, take out the squirrel.

There are, after all, hundreds of thousands of squirrels, maybe even millions of them. Losing one squirrel is no big deal.

Granted, it's a big deal for that particular squirrel, who, in the last fleeting seconds of his life, sees a pair of muddy Goodyear radials heading at him.

But there are so many other squirrels. And let's face it, they all look the same, with the curly tails and the nuts in the cheeks and the whole business.

This is not intended as some vicious polemic on squirrels. The point is . . . well, I forget the point right now. Frankly, I'm still a little unnerved by the whole incident and you would be, too, unless you're some kind of robot or something.

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