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Distracted Driving
Are you a careful driver a distracted driver or a rude driver Your answer might save your life Image Thinkstock
<p>Are you a careful driver, a distracted driver or a rude driver? Your answer might save your life. (Image: Thinkstock)</p>

Have We Become a Nation of Bad Drivers, or Are We Just Jerks?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

The National Safety Council released information last month that indicated 2015 could be the deadliest year for vehicle crashes since 2007. Fatalities were up 14 percent over 2014 through the end of June and serious injuries were up 30 percent. The NSC predicts that as many as 400 people could die on the roads over Labor Day weekend.

The NSC makes some suggestions for safety, among them: buckling up; having a designated driver; putting cell phones down while driving; encourage teens to drive safely and not allow themselves to be distracted by a car full of friends; etc. I have a suggestion too… Don’t be a jerk.

I’d actually like to use a much stronger term for some of the drivers I encountered today, but it’s rude. So we’ll leave it at “jerk.”

It seems like I’ve written a lot in the past couple of months about driving and accidents. My August editorial discussed driving safely in construction zones, and it garnered the strongest response – mostly people thanking me for addressing the topic – of any column I’ve written this year.

I noted in the column the lack of patience shown by drivers circulating through my neighborhood and their lack of concern for the workers in the street. I should add to that the lack of concern they show other drivers on the road.

Then it happened: This morning, as I headed into work, I was the jerk! I pulled up to the red light at the end of my street and before making a right on red, I looked both ways. And managed to miss seeing a car that was about five houses from the light. I pulled out right in front of him. While I had GLANCED both ways, I obviously didn’t LOOK and PAY ATTENTION. Perhaps the other car was in a blind spot, I don’t know; but all the more reason to look for a couple of seconds, rather than take a quick, blink-of-the-eye glance.

Maybe it was that experience that made me more aware of the other drivers around me as I headed into work. I take all side streets to get to work; I only live about 3 miles from my office. Most of the streets, until I get to the downtown business district, are residential. The speed limit is 25 mph for all but a short stretch. My commute should be about 10 minutes. It’s not.

I live here, so I drive 25 mph. I know that there are three school districts between my house and work, lots of young kids walking to school, lots of school buses, lots of people walking dogs, there’s a hospital along the route so there are ambulances, etc.

Many people, we call them “tourists,” try to avoid I-90 construction by jumping off the interstate and cutting through my neighborhood. Not only has traffic increased 10-fold in the past 2 years (tripling my commute time), but the average speed of the cars has increased by 15 mph.

I actually became a traffic hazard this morning as I drove 25 mph. Technically, the street is a single lane (and eventually will be marked as such, with a stripe down the side to designate a parking area), but the tourist cars were treating it like a VERY narrow two-lane street. Cars were swerving around me to pass me on the right.

Those of us who live here, used to making a right turn from what really is the only lane, are finding ourselves cut off by cars passing on the right. Drivers trying to make left turns are finding themselves dodging speeding cars that are running red lights. We now see and hear traffic accidents several times a week, unusual for a 25 mph residential street.

Near the end of my travels – closer to downtown – there is an intersection that apparently causes confusion for the tourists. It is a four-way stop sign. I think that four-way stop signs are pretty obvious: You stop and wait your turn to go. This stop sign is treated like a yield sign by many drivers. Add in dozens and dozens of workers attempting to cross the streets in the designated crosswalks to reach several major employers and it becomes a dangerous kind of dodge ‘em.

The intersection is further complicated by a crossing for a commuter train and a lift bridge that closes to traffic to allow freighters and large pleasure boats to maneuver down the Cuyahoga River. (These two things are the reason why a traffic signal has not been installed.)

This morning, while the gates were down and the hazard lights were flashing for a train, a car came up fast in the right-turn lane (which moves much faster than the other lane, which is designated for cars going straight across the tracks and turning left) and decided to ignore the fact that 1) He was in a right-turn lane and actually intended to go straight, just like the car next to him (I’m certain he does this every day to avoid the longer line) 2) Traffic was completely stopped because the gates were down until the train passed 3) There were pedestrians taking advantage of the stopped traffic and crossing the street.

In addition to nearly hitting two cars that had the right-of-way, he nearly clipped pedestrians in not one but TWO crosswalks. And the irony was, he couldn’t go anywhere, really, because the gates were down for the train and there were cars stopped in front him. So, he ended up completely blocking the intersection and inconveniencing all of the other drivers who were trying to make left or right turns or who were trying to cut through the intersection from one of the other directions. In other words, he was a jerk.

I did something I’ve never done before… I took advantage of stopped traffic, got out of my car, walked across the street, stood next to his open window and told him he was a jerk (and I did use the term “jerk”).

I pointed out that he nearly had hit people in crosswalks, had inconvenienced many other drivers and had broken numerous traffic laws in a space of 30 feet and a timeframe of 2 minutes. Let’s just say that his response did not involve thanking me for pointing out his jerkiness. My fellow drivers, however, tooted their horns and gave me a thumbs up and one pedestrian applauded me. (And yes, I realize that by doing this, I was exhibiting “jerk” behavior.)

I got back in my car, waiting another minute or two for the train to pass, and continued toward work. A minute later, a very expensive Mercedes made an illegal right on red directly in front of my car – the driver obviously in a huge hurry – and then slowed down to 15 mph for several blocks. Once he stopped checking his messages on his phone and started paying attention to the road and sped up, I was able to continue to work… Where a pickup truck stopped dead in the middle lane about a block from my office and then made a sharp right turn into a parking garage – across traffic moving in the right lane and without signaling. We all slammed on our brakes and avoided hitting him and each other.

I was relieved as I turned into our parking garage … and was nearly hit by a car making a left turn right in front of my car; the driver trying to scoot into the queue ahead of me and ignoring the fact that as the person making a right turn into the queue, I had the right of way. Parking in our garage is very limited, but I’m in no hurry. I have a parking pass and a guaranteed spot in the garage.

She, unfortunately, did not have a parking pass. The garage was filled and closed to all drivers who did not have one. As she backed out – and managed to hit two parked cars doing it – I realized that our nation is filled not with distracted drivers or “bad” drivers, but with jerks.

So my message today – and one that I have to remember myself when I’m in a hurry – is don’t be a jerk. And it just might help you avoid being one of those grim statistics shared by the NSC.

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