March 1, 2021 Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Story of Vicky

Donald J. Boudreaux

When Vicky was 30 years old, her two dearest friends were riding in an automobile when another car, operated by a negligent driver, ran a red light and crashed into her friends’ car. One of Vicky’s friends was instantly killed. The other survived, but only with permanent damage to his legs. For the rest of his life this friend walked with a severe limp.

Vicky was of course traumatized by this tragedy. Her trauma was intensified by the gruesome photographs she happened to come to possess of the crash scene, including one of her dead friend’s horribly mangled and bloodied body. Seeing her other friend’s slow, painful recovery and permanent limp only made Vicky’s trauma worse.

The loss of one of her friends, the serious injuries suffered by the other, and the unforgettable images of those photographs changed Vicky forever. She decided that her life must be devoted exclusively to protecting herself, her loved ones, and her friends from the risk of death or injury posed by automobiles.

Vicky refused ever again to ride in automobiles. And she admonished everyone she knew and had the slightest interest in also to avoid ever getting into cars. “Don’t you see?!” Vicky impatiently asked others. “You can die – die – in a car crash! And even if you don’t die, you can suffer injuries that will long reduce the quality of your life, perhaps for the rest of your days! These are facts! You mustn’t ignore them!”

One by one, Vicky’s friends stopped visiting and even calling and texting her. Although otherwise a charming and interesting woman, Vicky’s obsession with avoiding death or injury from automobiles became too much.

Even the great love of her life, her longtime boyfriend Will, in time broke up with her.

Will loved Vicky with the same fire that she loved him. And so at first he tolerated her insistence on walking or bicycling everywhere they went. But when Vicky would not let go of her insistence that he stop driving in a car to her place from his own – which was eight miles from Vicky’s apartment – he began to chafe. Still, he agreed to abide by her wish that, to visit her, he always ride his bicycle or take the bus.

But Vicky soon realized that buses are, like cars, motorized vehicles that can, and sometimes do, crash. “No more riding in buses, Will. I can’t bear the thought of you being killed or harmed in a bus crash. Please avoid buses, for me!”

Will was beside himself, torn between his love for Vicky and his need to live something close to a normal life. The last straw came when Vicky informed him that whenever he walks or rides his bike to her place, he must always stay at least six hundred feet away from any road on which cars drive. “That’s the minimum safe distance, my love. If you get within six hundred feet of a road, the chances are too high that you’ll be killed by an out-of-control car. And I can’t bear the thought of that tragedy.”

This latest demand from Vicky – combined with Will’s dawning recognition that Vicky’s mental health was severely compromised – prompted him, with a heavy heart, to break up with her. Yet as he drove his car back home from her place after he delivered the news, he felt strangely liberated, happy, and hopeful.

Vicky was devastated by the break-up, but her resolve to avoid ever again being affected by the horrors of automobile accidents was undiminished. Indeed, she soon comforted herself with the realization that Will didn’t deserve her. How, after all, could she possibly be happy with a man who was so unintelligent as to be indifferent to avoidable danger and death? She knew the facts, and one undeniable fact was that people are regularly killed or maimed by motorized vehicular traffic. In Vicky’s ideal world, there would be zero automobiles.

After losing Will, the only person left in Vicky’s life was her younger sister, Margie. From the start of Vicky’s single-minded obsession with protecting herself and everyone she cared about from the dangers of automobiles, Margie struggled to persuade Vicky to let go of this obsession. Vicky, however, remained undeterred. Each time, Margie explained that the risk of dying or being injured by an automobile was not nearly as high as Vicky believed it to be. Margie also unfailingly pointed out that there were countless other risks, many comparable to the risk of death by auto-accident, that Vicky routinely accepted without any anxiety at all.

But Vicky always resisted. She called Margie a “danger denier,” and waved in Margie’s face the grisly photos of the fatal car crash of years ago.

“Why can’t Margie see and accept facts straight on, as I do?” Vicky wondered to herself. “I simply don’t accept her claim that the costs and benefits of traveling by automobile must be balanced against the costs and benefits of other activities. Cars can kill – and if not kill, leave long-lasting injuries!” Vicky was convinced that every possible reduction in the risk of being harmed by automobiles was worth whatever sacrifices were necessary to achieve that reduction. Why didn’t Margie share this conviction?

Vicky suspected that poor Margie had fallen under the spell of some cult that denies scientific reality.

Despite the growing intellectual separation of the two sisters, they remained in close touch. Fortunately, Margie lived just two floors beneath Vicky in a downtown apartment building, so Margie didn’t have to drive to visit her sister. But Vicky would soon lose even Margie.

Margie became increasingly irritated by Vicky’s refusal, because of fear of being struck by a passing car or bus, to walk outside. Fetching Vicky’s groceries and laundry wore on Margie – as did Vicky’s demand that Margie walk only along streets with minimal traffic and, as much as possible, in alleyways. Yet Margie couldn’t bring herself to abandon her sister.

One evening, while visiting Vicky in her apartment, Margie suddenly collapsed. Grasping her chest, Margie managed to sputter out the words “heart attack.” Vicky turned white with fear. She jumped around frantically but pointlessly, trying to figure out how to help her sister who lay on the floor in distress.

“Nine-one-one,” Margie managed to say.

“What?” asked Vicky. “I didn’t hear you.”

Margie repeated, in obvious pain, “nine-one-one.”

Vicky froze and for a few moments silently stared out the window. Then she replied firmly: “No. No. No my darling sister, I can’t. I won’t. If I call 9-1-1 they’ll send an ambulance and you might die in a crash while being driven to the hospital. I would never forgive myself for being complicit in your death.”

Margie pleaded, as best as she could. But Vicky steadfastly refused, convinced that Margie obviously did not know what was in her own best interest. Vicky was not going to subject her beloved sister to the real risk of being killed or injured in an automobile.

There was nothing more to do. Even calling on a neighbor for help might incite the neighbor to summon an ambulance, a possibility that Vicky dared not risk.

And Vicky couldn’t physically carry Margie to the emergency room. Even if she could, she wouldn’t, because doing so would increase the risk that both women would be killed as pedestrians by an out-of-control car or truck.

After a half-hour or so Margie lost consciousness. A few minutes later she died. Vicky was heartbroken; she was more grieved than she’d been at any time in her life. But Vicky took real and immense comfort whenever she recalled that she saved Margie from being killed in a car crash.

Although self-imprisoned, alone and forever, in her apartment with literally not a friend left in the world, Vicky never wavered in knowing that she had her priorities ordered correctly, sensibly, and scientifically.

Vicky did not die as a result of the operation of an automobile.

Donald J. Boudreaux

Donald J. Boudreaux

Donald J. Boudreaux is a Associate Senior Research Fellow with the American Institute for Economic Research and affiliated with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University; a Mercatus Center Board Member; and a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University. He is the author of the books The Essential Hayek, Globalization, Hypocrites and Half-Wits, and his articles appear in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, US News & World Report as well as numerous scholarly journals. He writes a blog called Cafe Hayek and a regular column on economics for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Boudreaux earned a PhD in economics from Auburn University and a law degree from the University of Virginia.

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