Are Our Driving Skills A Collective Effort?
EDITOR’S NOTE: There has been a lot of public discussion about the increase of people walking or riding bicycles this summer, and the apparent increase of conflicts with people in cars. I’ve been asked to address the issue and I’ve been trying to do it in one big manifesto…that isn’t happening, and so I throw out this one attempt; more will follow.
How’s Your Driving?
Most Americans believe that they are above average divers; despite the statement’s impossibility. A recent Allstate survey shows that despite a pugnaciousness about our skills behind the wheel, most of us knowingly practice dangerous driving. A few of the survey’s disconnects are, that despite 64% of American drivers rating themselves as “excellent” or “very good” drivers, the survey shows that:
- Eighty-nine percent say they’ve driven faster than the posted speed limit, and 40 percent say they’ve driven more than 20 miles per hour over the limit.
- Almost half (45 percent) say they have driven while excessively tired – to the point of almost falling asleep.
- Fifteen percent say they have driven while intoxicated, with men almost four times more likely than women to have done so (23 percent of men versus six percent of women).
- More than one-third (34 percent) have sent a text-message or email while driving, but the prevalence of the practice changes by age group.
- Seven in 10 American drivers say that as a result of being distracted while driving, they have slammed their brakes or swerved to avoid an accident, missed a traffic signal, or actually caused an accident.
- Fifty-six percent of American drivers say they have been involved in an accident, but only 28 percent of them say the accident was their own fault.
My Own Driving
I’m recovering from the “I’m above-average” complex. I believe I’ve done all of the above. I’m beginning to realize that despite having quick reflexes and good eye-sight, there is a world of distractions and nudges in the world conspiring to make driving difficult and dangerous. I’m not even talking about winter driving. An incident from a month ago has been on my mind lately that I’d like to share and is reflective of how I’ve examined interactions between modes on the streets this summer.
A month ago, while driving in downtown Traverse City, I went to make a left from Front St. onto Union St. I checked the light, green, and started my turn when just then a man walking with what I assume to be his 10-year-old son suddenly appeared in the crosswalk. In the end, I wasn’t close to hitting them, but as I revved my engine the boy’s father was certainly startled and my heart jumped. It could have been worse; if I drove something other than a go-cart pretending to be a car (Honda Fit) it certainly would have been.
As far as run-ins go on the streets, this was pretty tame. No one was hurt and I suspect no one was overly traumatized. In fact, it might have served as a useful reminder for those involved and a few observant onlookers that conflict points exists on our streets and it pays to pay attention and be considerate. However, as I ruminated on the situation, there was a lot of contributing variables to this sequence of events that I’d like to throw out there.
To begin with, I was late and annoyed that I chose to drive downtown on a busy and stifling hot Saturday afternoon. This contributed to me being blinded by my own needs and personal drama.
Then, I was turning off of a 2-lane one-way street and being closer to the left side of the road creates a blind spot in my car directly where the crosswalk began. If there was a bump-out the duo would have been more visible and once they had a green they would have been 1/3rd of the way across before I even started.
But before I could even think of going, I also had to contend with two giant trucks turning left on a red light as they obviously felt entitled to their left turn because they had waited for the entire cycle without an opportunity; entitlement tends to create dangerous situations. So, I was anxious; would I now miss my green cycle?
Then, the pedestrian himself was distracted: he was on his cell-phone and holding his son’s hand, himself engrossed in an ice cream cone; he was so distracted that he wasn’t even startled. Aiya, as the zen master said, “when crossing the road, be crossing the road.”
Those are the known contributing factors; there could be more. Despite the scare to both parties, the two movements could be considered a success. They crossed the road and I made my turn.
I tell the story because it is instructive of what happens 1000’s of times everyday in our little hamlet of Traverse City. Close calls happen all over the place and they contribute somewhat to raising the collective awareness, but there also many that go unnoticed or willfully ignored. Being aware of the multitude of circumstances is not to the loss of personal responsibility, rather to the broadening of our understanding of it. If, and I don’t even like writing it, I would have collided with father and son I would have been responsible and paid the personal consequences. Yet, to improve my awareness it would behest me to more broadly understand the dynamics at play. Namely, those being:
- Driving is stressful, be aware.
- People will be there; they are unpredictable & distracted.
- Expect delays.
- Our infrastructure is designed for speed; suppress the urge.
What other dynamics might I be missing?
* photo by doovie