Forget ‘distracted driving.’ How do we address crappy driving?
A couple of months ago, there was a hubbub about a federal agency’s proposal to ban all use of cell phones by motorists, even the use of hands-free devices. Although the chances that such a ban would be enacted appear to be low, I’ve thought about that story every time I saw people driving recklessly near me since then. The conclusion I’ve reached — based on my admittedly limited and anecdotal evidence — is that the danger of distracted driving pales in comparison to the danger of plain-old bad driving.
Two such incidents from just this morning:
- A man ran a red light right in front of me at maybe 35 mph on Peachtree near the intersection with Piedmont. The light had been red — not just yellow, but full-on red — for at least five seconds, long enough for the car in front of me to have already made a right turn into his path. If I hadn’t noticed him coming — if, say, I’d been looking to my right to make sure there were no pedestrians crossing or cars stopped in the lane into which I was turning — he would have T-boned and perhaps killed me. It’s possible he had been texting earlier, but at the time he passed through the intersection his head was up and, actually, looking at me. Not at a phone.
- About two minutes later, I was coming up to another intersection where I was going to make a right turn but the light was yellow. Now, I drive this route practically every day, and I knew from experience that I would be able to turn right on red almost immediately because the oncoming traffic would also have red lights. However, it’s right on red after stopping, and apparently the woman behind me didn’t think I would deign to stop before proceeding. Not only did she nearly read-end me, but I could see in my rear-view mirror that she had the gall to throw her hands up as if I had done something wrong. She did not appear to be using a cell phone in any way.
- Also, while this was not a driving incident, it was another example of people acting stupidly in the vicinity of moving traffic: As I was stopped at a red light near my office, a woman in front of me wearing (my best estimate) 4-inch high heels ran all the way across Ashford-Dunwoody road in spite of fast oncoming traffic in both directions. Think Frogger on stilettos. Had she bothered to wait another five seconds, she would have gotten a walk signal to cross the road safely. I did not see a cell phone pressed to her ear; in fact, she couldn’t have held a phone to her ear because she had a great big purse in one hand and a shopping bag in the other while she scampered across (as best as I can recall) eight or nine lanes.
Folks, I could write an account like this at least once or twice a week, if not every day. Distracted drivers certainly are bad, but the greater danger is posed by people who just suck at driving, distracted or not. If the do-gooders simply must do something, I think I’d prefer that they focus on the latter problem.
I don’t know what that effort would entail, but I do think a tougher drivers license examination could be an element of it. My own exam, more than 17 years ago, not only didn’t involve any driving on an interstate or even a four-lane highway; I didn’t even have to make a left turn. (But I did have to parallel park!) The idea that I had proved my readiness to be turned loose in a car is an absolute joke.
I suspect many of you see similar things on the road wherever you live. Any other ideas for how to tackle the problem of crappy driving?
– By Kyle Wingfield
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