A number of politicians have received flak for comparing the risk of driving to resuming daily life during the COVID-19 pandemic, the most recent being U.S. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia.
In some ways, the pushback makes sense. The death tolls aren’t comparable and motor vehicles aren’t contagious, so reducing risk works differently.
However, there are ways in which they are the same.
Whether you are climbing in your car to drive or you walk into a crowded store, there is an assumed risk. If you stay at home, you are much less likely to get into a car wreck or contract COVID-19.
Beyond that assumed risk, there is personal responsibility. We have a responsibility not to endanger others. If you’re drunk, you shouldn’t climb in the driver’s seat. If you’re sick, you shouldn’t go to crowded public places.
State governments have actually codified personal responsibility for drivers. You can receive a ticket if you’re caught speeding, following too closely or ignoring the painted lines because of the danger it causes to others. If you don’t wear your seat belt, you can be fined because of the danger it causes to you. And if you’re caught driving while impaired or you cause serious injury, you can face jail time.
That is for driving, which is a privilege — at least if you are driving on a road that you likely helped pay to pave. There aren’t laws in place requiring people to wear masks or stay home when they are sick, and such statutes could prove problematic.
However, it shouldn’t take legislation to get people to act responsibly. That means there are things you should do to keep from spreading COVID-19.
A big one is staying home if you are sick, especially if you might have COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it took just two people showing up sick at an Arkansas church to spread COVID-19 to 35 members of the congregation, killing three of them. Even if you are in the majority and are unlikely to face serious illness from this virus, you don’t know who you could end up contracting COVID-19 from you if you get it and don’t stay home.
While you should follow other CDC guidelines — frequent hand-washing, keeping 6 feet between you and people you don’t live with, and wearing a mask when you can’t practice social distancing — you can judge which risks you are willing to take. However, bear in mind that there are people who are following those guidelines, including those who are more at risk for serious illness, and you should respect that. And if you live with someone who is older or has underlying conditions, remember that they share the risks you take.
In other words, be respectful of others and don’t turn your risks into their risks.
This is you as an individual, not as an employee or a business owner. If you are required to abide by certain guidelines at work, either from your company or from the government, you should generally follow them. And if you are patronizing a business, you agree to follow its rules when you enter.
And for all the people out there who say that we wouldn’t stay at home to prevent driving deaths, you are absolutely right, we wouldn’t and shouldn’t. However, staying at home has been effective at preventing driving deaths, even it was was unintentional. According to the state Department of Public Safety, in the past four years, we were at 360 to 400 traffic deaths as a state by this point in the year. As of Monday, South Carolina had just 284 for 2020. That’s down by about 25% — and we only hunkered down for a little more than a third of that time.