Recent news stories reported that deaths on U.S. roads in 2021 soared to a 16-year high. Any thoughts I have had about dying from cancer since I was first diagnosed in 2010 have been superseded by my fear of getting killed on Long Island roadways.
The reports stated that road deaths climbed more than 10% to 42,915 in 2021 — the largest annual percentage increase in the history of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which began in 1975.
I haven't driven any great distances consistently since December 2019 when I underwent a stem cell transplant at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
When I returned to work in March 2020, the pandemic had begun to take hold. Several colleagues were infected with COVID-19. Some had family members who died. I was immunocompromised and worked remotely for more than a year.
I resumed driving to work from Long Beach to Roslyn Heights for a few months until I retired in August 2021.
Everything changed in April when I started a new cancer-related treatment at North Shore Hospital, which required me to drive from Long Beach to Manhasset two or three days a week.
For years, I've encountered thousands of drivers speeding, running stop signs, accelerating through yellow lights, and turning on red without stopping. Lately, though, it seems to have gotten worse.
So much so that I have imagined this headline: "71-year-old man killed on the LIE driving to cancer treatment."
Everyone is in a big hurry. It is difficult to change lanes to get to an exit. Someone is always weaving in and out of traffic at a high speed or riding my bumper.
What was once mild annoyance has become white-knuckle fear.
What changed? Was I in denial before? Is it my advancing age and acute sense of my own mortality? Or, simply, rational fear?
This goes beyond a lack of civility in our society, well beyond rudeness. It is a total disregard for human life.
Last year, a friend was struck by an out-of-control driver who jumped a divider into a parking area. He had just opened his car door when he was struck. He was in intensive care for several months, in a coma with multiple injuries. He survived but lost a leg. Last weekend, three women were killed in a crash in New Hyde Park in which one driver was charged with drunken driving.
Federal transportation officials are touting a new $1 billion Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program to help local governments implement safety projects to protect pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users, as well as car and truck drivers. The devil is in the details. I'm not sure how the program will get drivers off their cellphones or prevent them from using mind-altering substances and applying makeup while driving.
Most of the time when another driver cuts me off to advance, miles down the road we are together again. They gained little or no ground.
Traffic on Long Island and in the metropolitan area is unforgiving.
My family is grateful that there are places on Long Island and in New York City where I can receive quality health care. I have one favor to ask: When I’m on my way to get that care, please don't run me down. My family is not ready to grieve for me.
This guest essay reflects the views of Andrew Malekoff, former chief executive at North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center in Roslyn Heights, a nonprofit children's mental health agency.