Gridlock Guy: The human toll of our driving errors

We should pause to remember the lives torn apart on the roads — those in vehicles, on foot and on two-wheels.  (John Spink /



We should pause to remember the lives torn apart on the roads — those in vehicles, on foot and on two-wheels. (John Spink /

Decatur City Church, the place where my wife Momo and I attend, is finishing up a sermon series called, “You’ll Be Glad You Did.” Each message offers simple nuggets of advice, but doesn’t just leave them in the ether like a proverb. Instead, they are distilled into practical applications. They ask this question: Why follow this wisdom? Besides the obvious self-help reasoning is the unavoidable truth that whatever we do — good or bad — has an effect on other people.

Momo and I had to skip a recent installment of that series to attend a funeral. The service was for an acquaintance of hers — I did not know him. We found out through social media and a mutual friend that he had died in a car crash. The details of the wreck were scant, but tragic nonetheless.

As we sat silently in the funeral home’s chapel, we watched as the mother, brother, sister and other close family members came in to view the open casket. The grief was overwhelming.

Loud wailing and anguish enveloped the room. The mother kept repeating, “My son is gone!” The sobs were so emphatic and guttural, the kind of weeping that can only come from deep within. Observing this kind of sadness is painful, but that agony only pales in comparison to that of those emoting it.

In the days after the service, I dug around to find out more. How and why this driver died did not make their loss any less sad. However, the experience was so moving that I just wanted to try and understand what went wrong.

Just three days before the funeral, the deceased lost control of his car in a curve. This was on a rainy morning, so the margin of error was less. The crash only involved him and reportedly killed him nearly instantly. Thankfully, he didn’t suffer, but his family now does. The crash is still under investigation.

Everything changed for that family and for that driver in an instant.

One slight input-change in the wheel, a little bit less speed, an ounce more of attention and he likely would have made his destination on a Thursday. If there had not been wet pavement or maybe some other factor that could have caused the wreck — an impatient tailgating driver or a loose dog running across the road — then he and his family could have gathered instead for a joyous, relaxing Sunday.

In the blink of an eye, it all changed. The line between life and death is far thinner than a lane stripe.

In the wee hours of Friday, Sept. 2, just eight days later, a driver fleeing Cobb PD exited off of I-285 at Camp Creek Parkway (Exit 2) and finally shook the pursuing officer somewhere on U.S. 29/Roosevelt Highway in South Fulton. The fleeing driver, however, drove on the wrong side of that road and slammed head-on into another car, killing the oncoming driver. The suspect limped away from the scene on foot before being apprehended by police.

One can safely assume that even the scoundrel that caused that wreck did not set out that night to kill another driver. But that cowardly desperation forever changed the trajectories of multiple lives, casting a bloody, dark pall over what should have been a fun summer-ending Labor Day weekend for the dead motorist’s family. It also likely stunned and devastated those close to the at-fault driver. Gut-wrenchingly awful.

Traffic fatalities are normally discussed as statistics and driving has gotten deadlier again in 2022, continuing a post-COVID trend. But the headlines that should change habits are of the individuals who perished — thousands of them — and the people who love them.

In each tragedy, something avoidable happened. Someone made an error and snuffed out a life. Thousands more people also received life-altering injuries in wrecks during this time. Others in the wrecks may have not been injured or killed, but they carry with them the guilt and consequence of setting the catastrophe into motion.

As much as we chalk life events up to chance, almost every result comes at the hand of some decision. Whether the decision or the result are intentional matters very little. Regardless of who causes a wreck — and I never call these “accidents” — the fact that avoidable mistakes snuff out lives is tragic. We can all intentionally try to behave more safely in a commuting environment. That intention matters and it affects many others.

If we are honest with ourselves, many of us would admit that we make those kinds of errors. The only luck, really, is that we haven’t caused one of these horrible melees yet.

Thankfully, most missteps behind the wheel do not cause calamity. But playing the odds is not how to handle driving. We should pause to remember the lives torn apart on the roads — those in vehicles, on foot and on two-wheels. And we cannot forget those people who love the perished and maimed. After the experience Momo and I recently had, we certainly will. Drive safely, friends.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on Contact him at