ON MENTAL ILLNESS: What I Learned in Traffic School in 1989

Jack Bragen
Saturday April 14, 2018 - 09:52:00 AM

My wife is not a hundred percent trusting of my driving. Shortly following the death of my father, I didn't see a stoplight, resulting in the wreck of a very nice car, and minor injuries to me and my wife, as well as the driver of the other vehicle. At the time, I was distracted by grief, and I should not have agreed to take a trip to Walnut Creek to see friends.

Since then, I have cultivated the ability to say "no" to things that seem to be too much, especially that involve driving. I have been in two additional accidents, both of them the fault of the other drivers. It doesn't make much difference if an accident is the fault of the other driver, if I am out of a car, possibly injured, and with an increase in insurance premiums.

In traffic school, in 1989, (the result of a speeding ticket) the instructor emphasized: "Stress will kill you." 

Excessive stress is known to cause numerous health problems, is known to make you accident prone, it can worsen symptoms of mental illness, and it is a miserable way to live. 

Unfortunately, a psychiatric illness can cause higher than average sensitivity to stress. Yet, I have seen numerous people who do not have any psychiatric diagnosis, who have a great deal of difficulty doing things like showing up for a job. Mentally ill people aren't alone in having problems like these. 

Before getting into the driver's seat of a motor vehicle, we'd better be darned certain that nothing is causing us to be impaired. An impairment can be caused by the sedation of some psych medications, it can be caused by symptoms of the illness, it can be caused by lack of adequate sleep and rest, and it can be caused by being emotionally upset. 

Most employers don't have any sympathy for this--this is the nature of the work world. Employers need people who show up, and who perform as expected. If they don't get that they aren't happy. 

However, we must weigh an employer's expectations or anyone's expectations, against driving while possibly impaired. For example, you could have a very important appointment, one that if missed, could have consequences. On the other hand, if circumstances beforehand were to lead up to being massively stressed, you must decide which is more important: staying out of a car wreck, versus complying with expectations. 

Legal and financial complications of "driving while impaired" are severe. 

Preemptively dealing with the above scenario is best. If you have doubts concerning your ability to go somewhere, you should not commit to it. If someone is pressuring you to drive when you would rather not, you should refuse. Wanting to please everyone is not a virtue. When you drive, you are responsible, regardless of people pressuring you or not. 

Yet, I have an additional point to make. Have you heard the cleverness that goes "guilty of driving while black"? Well, it seems that in the modern world populated by numerous ignoramuses, people have a lack of understanding that persons with mental illness are essentially the same as most people, and we are usually capable of handling the responsibility of owning and driving a motor vehicle. 

Recently, one of those ignoramuses was a doctor, who was trying to get a close relative of mine locked up for appearing sedated, and for having a car to drive. 

This is nothing but prejudice and stereotyping of a mentally ill person. This person was perfectly capable as a driver, but because the person didn't come across as "normal" the person was presumed to be dangerous. 

So, while there is reason to be cautious concerning the responsibility of driving, numerous mentally ill people can and should have this privilege. I have driven cars since 1980, and I do just fine at it. I have never been convicted of any kind of reckless driving or DUI offense. In all of that time, close to forty years, I have had about four or five traffic citations, and have been in a few accidents, most of which were the fault of other drivers, and none of which caused a serious injury. Who is to be the "judge" of this? Well, we have courts, we have laws, and our rights aren't supposed to be taken away without due process.