PHOENIXVILLE - Politicians have known that in order to sell an unpopular idea to the American people they have to conceptualize a specific doctrine. Our history is filled with such phrases that incited the nation to take action on a specific policy.
"Give me liberty or give me death."
"Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."
"Fifty-four forty or fight."
"Remember the Alamo."
"United we stand, divided we fall."
"Remember the Maine."
"Make the world safe for democracy."
You get the idea?
Repetition in writing is one form of emphasis according to experts.
Prepare for repetition!
Let's find a national slogan to win the war against traffic accidents.
For example, cars are weapons of mass destruction. The latter phrase is being overused? You're right. How about "The life you save may be your own." Trite. Maybe, "Pay attention to your driving, then you'll know what you have hit." Not catchy?
Every time I lose a friend because of an auto accident, I have this same feeling of helplessness. Please don't consider this a eulogy in memory of Pete Bamberger. He will receive many deserving tributes in the coming weeks. But his traffic accident will merely enter the national record books as another numeral among the more than 44,000 people who will lose their lives this year. That's the greatest tragedy because many of these deaths might be prevented.
The details are simple. Pete and his wife Jonni had left their attractive home in East Pikeland when the tragedy occurred, according to reports. Driving south on Coldstream Road they were hit broadside by a car. However, the details will probably be decided by insurance companies or in a legal case.
The pertinent facts are that a good man and community hero lost his life, plus a family was left without a husband, father or grandfather.
I can identify with the tragedy because 21 years ago I managed to survive a somewhat similar accident on route 29. A driver heading to work at 2:55 P.M. on August 16 was late but decided to drink a cup of coffee while driving. His buddy was following him so the details were verified.
Traveling up the hill on the then two-lane highway near Arcola Road, he spilled the coffee on his lap, crossed lanes and hit me head-on. He was killed instantly and I spent eight days in the intensive care unit of Phoenixville Hospital as my vital organs were repaired and the internal bleeding stopped. The excellent physicians jokingly gave me a 20-year guarantee for parts and labor, but the warranty is over.
I'm not making light of a serious situation, because I have waged a consistent war against careless driving all my life.
While I recovered, the president of Valley Forge Christian College paid me daily visits and I was back on the faculty a month later. His name was Dr. Robert Ashcroft, the father of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who spent time in Phoenixville during his visits to see mom and dad. A few years after retiring as VFCC president, Bob lost his older son, James, in a similar automobile accident and never really recovered from the tragedy.
At some future date, the Ashcroft family will be a topic of this column.
After my 1983 brush with death, I became very aware of other drivers. I watched maps being read, radios tuned, children scolded, beverages consumed, snacks eaten, and cell phones used.
My passion about dangerous drivers began long before my traffic accident.
During the '60s, I loudly campaigned among the students of our high school for more responsible driving. I know one message got across. One of our graduates was killed in Vietnam, but we lost the lives of 14 students and alumni in traffic fatalities. Plus teenage drivers had a great advantage in those days. All three high schools where I served as principal had a mandatory graduation requirement: Unless handicapped, you had to pass in-car driver training. When that expense was considered frivolous, the teen death rate climbed. Plus insurance premiums had been reduced for those who were certified by our driving instructors.
So now we watch our kids to make sure they have safe playgrounds, safe sports equipment and healthy cafeteria food. Then we allow them to be killed on the highways. Check the number of teen death among those 44,000 fatalities to prove the point.
Of course, there are many risk factors included in these traffic statistics. But I would check our high school physical education classes and watch the lack of coordination among some of our kids. Then they left school and drove home. Scary thought?
So what are some solutions?
Pennsylvania roads are terrible, fix them, widen them or close them. For example, Chicago has 10 lanes on one major highway leading out of the city to the suburbs. Philadelphia has the world's largest parking lot.
The popular cry is "Open Space." What about "Open Roads" Route 29, 113, 23, 724, etc.
Increase penalties for dangerous drivers. One suggestion that would stop some of the killing: First major offense, put a governor on the vehicle that limits speed to 35 MPH. Add a sticker that is engraved on the trunk:
"Beware, I'm a dangerous driver." Second major violation, confiscate the car and sell it, giving the profits to victims.
"But that's limiting our freedom," they would cry. Freedom? I would much rather have a guy with a rifle fire at me than be hit by a car. A bullet makes smaller holes, I know.
If this diatribe saves but one life then I dedicate it to Pete Bamberger's memory.