A few days ago I rolled through a stop sign without coming to a complete stop. I had a momentary flashback to my high school days when I was all about incomplete stops. While cruising around the rural countryside, other cars on the road were few and far between, and thus I saw stop signs as a situational recommendation. If another car was approaching the same intersection as me, I would gladly stop. But if a quarter-mile before the stop sign I could clearly see that there were no cars for at least a half mile to the left or right, I simply slowed down as I went through the intersection. Why would I take the time to stop completely when I knew there was nobody to stop for?
One day I picked my dad up from a field to drive him to where he’d left his pickup. I rolled through a stop sign. He asked why I didn’t stop. I sheepishly mumbled that I had slowed enough to completely stop if I needed to. He asked me, “If someone was hanging a cinder block over your head and started lowering it, would you want them to completely stop or almost completely stop?” Although I stubbornly thought to myself that nobody would ever hang a cinder block over my head, I understood his point. He wanted me to obey the law completely, regardless of whether or not I thought it was necessary.
There have been several times in my life where I have cut corners and suffered the consequences, but one experience in particular haunts me to this day. When I was 17, I awoke one summer morning to move my wheel lines and found that my brothers had gone out without me. I was left with a four-wheeler I was unfamiliar with. I rode out to the field, but by the time I was out there my brothers were almost done. I sent them to go turn on the pump while I stayed out in the field to make sure all the lines looked good.
As I rode along the side of the field looking for plugged birds, I noted that water was spraying out of the top of one of the valve openers. This annoyed me. I pulled right next to it, hoping I could lean over and fix it without getting off the four-wheeler. I was not successful, and was forced to get off the motorcycle. However, I didn’t bother shifting down to neutral first. I knew it wasn’t a wise thing to do, but I felt that in this situation nothing bad would happen. As I worked to fix the valve opener, it became apparent that I needed to move the four-wheeler a little farther away; it was in the way. I remembered that I had left it in gear and smiled to myself. I wouldn’t even have to get back on the four-wheeler to move it. I could simply walk the four-wheeler a few steps forward. What a convenient little shortcut I’d set up for myself!
Had I left in in first gear, all might have gone well. But I had left in about third or fourth gear. I twisted the handle just a bit, wanting to keep it slow, but something unexpected happened. The four-wheeler gave a sudden jolt forward (probably because it was in such a high gear), and as it jolted my hand involuntarily twisted the accelerator. The four-wheeler hurtled forward with a burst of speed, and I lost my grip on the handlebars. Had I been more familiar with this particular four-wheeler, I would have known that the accelerator sticks and has to be manually untwisted in order to slow down. However, I was not aware of this feature until that horrifying moment when I was left standing alone in that field watching the four-wheeler speed off along the side of the field without me on it.
I began awkwardly running after it in my thigh-high irrigation boots, my mind screaming in prayer, “Make it stop!” The four-wheeler plowed over a riser, and a miniature geyser gushed out of the ground. The four-wheeler then veered to the left into the neighboring field. As it raced toward a wheel line, I hoped the heavy, water-filled line would stop the four-wheeler. However, the four-wheeler happened to collide where two pipes connected and simply popped off the clamp and continued forward at break neck speed, leaving behind a trail of destruction. The collision with the pipe caused the four-wheeler to change directions and it was headed toward a small clump of bushes and trees. It disappeared for a moment, and I closed my eyes hoping something had stopped it. But then I heard the four-wheeler roar, and it emerged from the bushes unscathed. The four-wheeler finally met its match as it smashed into one of our wheel lines and could go forward no longer.
The four-wheeler wailed in protest as I breathlessly ran toward it. I jumped on it and stomped on the shifter until it was in neutral. The four-wheeler sighed when I turned the key off. I sat there for a moment, waiting for my brain to catch up to my body. I turned the four-wheeler back on and tried to get it into reverse, hoping that would somehow undo the damage. It wasn’t going anywhere. I surveyed the situation in dismay. This was not what I had pictured when I had dismounted the four-wheeler five minutes earlier.
Although nothing was harmed that morning that couldn’t be replaced, it’s still a chilling memory for me. My heart skips a beat when I consider what could have happened if that wheel line hadn’t stopped the four-wheeler. What if it had made it all the way to the house our field bordered? Kids lived there. What if it had hit somebody? What if it had made it all the way to the road? What if it had hit a car? It could have killed somebody. And all because I cut a few corners.
How much harder would it have been for me to shift down to neutral before getting off the four-wheeler? How much more time would it have taken for me to climb back on the four-wheeler to move it a couple feet forward? Even if everything had gone well cutting those corners, would I have gained much? Not really. There are many laws and rules that I think are a little unnecessary in certain situations, but do I really gain much from cutting corners? Rolling through a stop sign rather than coming to a complete stop doesn’t save me more than a few seconds of time, and coming to a complete stop isn’t really that inconvenient. And yet I still do it.
Perhaps it is my pride. Perhaps a small part of me smugly believes that because I am so responsible and have such good judgment, I am above the law. However, people who are truly responsible enough to be above the law have no desire to break the law. Responsible people who make good decisions do not cut corners. Responsible people do not roll through stop signs.