COVID and My Car: We’ll Learn to Mitigate Risks and Keep Rolling

By Dwight Longenecker Published on May 15, 2020

Driving along the other day I had time to reflect on how driving my car provides the perfect response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s what I mean: how we react to the reality of the pandemic compares with our relationship with our cars. We all know that driving a car can be dangerous. When we get behind the wheel each one of us are in control of 2,000 pounds of deadly steel racing down the road at seventy miles an hour. We know in the back of our minds that many people die every year from road traffic accidents.

In case you were interested, each year, 1.35 million people are killed on roadways around the world. Every day, almost 3,700 people are killed globally in road traffic crashes involving cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, or pedestrians.

Safety First?

Knowing how deadly car driving can be, we take road safety lessons. We buy insurance policies. We try to choose cars with safety features built in. We buckle our seat belts. We stop at red lights, and even though we break the speed limit we know we shouldn’t. We do all these things not only to preserve ourselves from injury and death, but also to be on the lookout for other people. Driving safely is the responsible thing to do.

In dealing with COVID-19 all of us are getting our heads around the reality that we are dealing with an imminent question of life and death.

With this in mind, we don’t allow some people to drive. We keep our youngsters safe in the back seat. They can’t drive until they’re sixteen. We advise our elderly parents when the time comes for them to hand over their keys.

Dangerous drivers are removed from the road: too many tickets and you lose your license. Drunks and addicts have their licenses yanked, and some folks with poor eyesight or debilitating illness that might cause them to be a danger to themselves and others, are not allowed to drive. Nobody supposes there is nefarious government over reach when such safety measures are enforced. We accept these government regulations for the common good.

Daredevils on the Road

Sensible people take these precautions for road safety, but some don’t. With a sense of adventure, some people head out to the open road on a motorcycle. They know whizzing down the interstate on two wheels at 70 mph is even more dangerous than driving a car, but they risk it. The more sensible motorcyclists wear leathers and a helmet and take a motorcycle safe driving course. Others zoom by on a bike powerful enough to launch you into space wearing nothing but shorts and flip-flops.

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It’s easy to write off the daredevils as crazy idiots, road pizza or organ donors, but we shrug our shoulders and grant them their freedom. That’s okay, but we should remember that the roads belong to everyone and any kind of dangerous driving endangers not only themselves but the rest of the public.

COVID and Cars

In dealing with COVID-19 all of us are getting our heads around the reality that we are dealing with an imminent question of life and death. However, this reality is not that different from the reality we deal with everyday in choosing to drive our cars.

The risk of contracting the disease (like the risk of driving a car) is real. We are facing a new kind of daily life where we may going about our ordinary business and suddenly come down with the symptoms. We, or our loved ones, may become very sick. Some of us will die. We probably won’t know how we got the illness, who gave it to us or whether or not we will recover.

So, as we do with driving our cars, each one of us will decide the level of safety we can afford. Because of their circumstances of health and age, some people will choose to isolate almost completely for a long time. Others will choose to wear masks and distance themselves from other people. Like the motorcycle daredevils, some will throw caution to the wind, deny the threat and live with the risk, but if they do, they might make others uncomfortable or even endanger their lives.

The Truck and the Red Light

When driving we might take every precaution possible and be the safest, most reliable driver on the road. That won’t stop a dump truck driver from running a red light and plowing into us. Every year millions of people die in road accidents, but we still venture out into the roadways.

There is still much that is unknown about the coronavirus, but if it does hang around for the foreseeable future, life must go on. It will go on as we learn to take precautions. We try to drive safely, but we take a risk. Likewise, we take precautions in the face of COVID-19, but we also take a measured risk.

We will face the risk, weigh the safety measures … then get busy living.

We are strong and we are smart. We will learn how to deal with this threat. We will learn how to be cautious and live respectfully and carefully with other people. Just as the government exercises a measure of control over our driving with licenses and road traffic laws, so the government may issue restrictions on our lives for the common good. Together we will learn to live life without constant fear and we will learn how to care for one another if and when we fall ill.

As we do, we will be living life as most human beings down the ages in most places have done. Only recently in our affluent Western society have we been so protected by our excellent technology, health care and infrastructure. Where there has been a risk or threat (like driving cars) we have shielded ourselves, taken precautions and gotten on with life. It will be the same with COVID-19. We will face the risk, weigh the safety measures … then get busy living.


Dwight Longenecker is a Catholic priest working in South Carolina. Check out his new book Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness.

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