Honor Driving

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(Photo source: GoFundMe)

I cannot recall ever meeting Taranjit Parmar, the vibrant teenager who was recently killed on Hempstead Turnpike by a hit-and-run driver. I don’t know any details of her death other than what I’ve read in the newspapers. And I share a community’s outrage at her death. Perhaps by the time this column is published, the identity of the person who killed her will be discovered and the wheels of justice will begin to turn. If not, the sadness and anger at her death will continue to churn in painful ways.

I was touched as many of her classmates and their family members came to Mass at St. Bernard’s the weekend after her death. People are drawn to God’s strength and healing at times like these and when we feel helpless in the midst of a tragedy we rely on God to be our refuge and comforter.

Indeed we are helpless to reverse what happened that terrible night. But the needless death of someone in our community ought not end with inaction. There is something that every driver can do to honor Taranjit: drive safely.

It’s hard to do that these days. Consumer Reports just published an article about the “infotainment” centers on many newer cars and how they force drivers who use them to look away from the road. I drive a car that was rated as less-distracting than others, yet I have realized that the simple act of changing a radio station now requires me to look at a touch screen and reach out to interact with it. In my older car, I could more easily press a radio button — I hardly had to look away from the road. But now, the radio changing is more dangerous so I no longer change stations when I’m moving. I wait for a red light.

I’m not ever tempted to text while driving simply because I don’t have a smart phone. But I know that if I did have the ability to text, I would indeed be sorely tempted to at least read the texts of people trying to reach out to me. A car driving at 30 miles per hour will travel almost the length of a football field in six seconds. What could go wrong in that distance if a driver was not looking at the road?

Then there are stop signs. A neighbor up the block from the church recently called me asking me to remind our congregants that he’s witnessed many people disregarding stop signs while he’s out walking his dog. He fears for the safety not only of his pet but of neighborhood children. And hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t rant on Facebook about dangerous driving in our neighborhood, especially when dropping off children at school.

We can all grieve with the Parmar family and yet not drive any more safely. And we truly know how that will end someday — another preventable tragedy looms in our future. Or, and this I pledge to do myself, we can change something in our driving behavior to be safer than we were in the past. Whether it’s not looking at a screen, not trying to balance food while driving, not ignoring stop signs or always signaling before changing lanes, I invite you to honor the memory of Taranjit, even if like me, you never met her.

May God bless her family and friends and all others who have lost loved ones to traffic accidents.

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Pastor of St. Bernard’s since 2013 and known for his engaging homilies and community presence, Father Ralph Sommer is also a treasured columnist for the Levittown Tribune.

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