When driving, it’s not about you

I drive for a living now, so I’m on the road a lot. I see accidents waiting to happen all the time.

I hope I never see anything like what happened in Kalamazoo, Mich., Tuesday night – five bicyclists killed and four others injured when a pickup truck plowed into them.

Apparently several 911 callers alerted authorities that this truck’s driver was acting erratically even before the collision.

I personally have seen several drivers weaving across lanes, but never to the extent that I was tempted to call 911. I saw a semi-truck weaving one time. I prefer to stay behind such vehicles, since if they’re going to hit something, I’d rather it not be me.

Bikes,  motorcycles and buggies

I’ve seen bicyclists on main roads too, some in bike lanes and some on streets that don’t have a bike lane. I passed a bicyclist the other day on a two-lane, 40 mph road. I just slowed down, made sure oncoming traffic passed by, then edged around the cyclist. It slowed me down for a few seconds, but that’s all. No big deal.

I see bumper stickers and signs all the time to watch out for motorcycles. That’s a different animal. Unlike bicyclists, they move at posted speeds. I do see them – except for those who swerve between vehicles at twice the speed limit. Those I do not see.

I’ve shared pavement with Amish buggies pulled by a horse. This isn’t the Kentucky Derby. They aren’t racing. I often see them plodding along on hilly two-lane roads. I recently came up behind one as it neared the crest of a hill – which I could not see over. So, I chugged along at one horsepower speed until we crested the hill and I could look for oncoming traffic.

I passed when it was safe.

I drive slowly through neighborhoods, slower than many other drivers do. Why? Have you ever seen a child dart into the street? Or a basketball, football or Frisbee escape the driveway or yard and sail in front of your vehicle – or bump your vehicle? We raised three sons. Been there. Done that. Seen that.

I also walk or jog through our neighborhood, often on the street. Do you see me when you drive past?

Pavers and other road work machines

For those of you who are impatient drivers, I hope you don’t see as many construction zones as I do. I travel on one five-lane road that’s down to two lanes, one each way, because it’s being repaved. When someone wants to turn left, it halts the entire lane of traffic. It’s not unusual for that mile-and-a-half drive to take 15 minutes or more.

I drive that road twice a day.

That doesn’t even count utility workers who block several hundred yards of a traffic lane for a period of time, or tree service workers doing the same thing. I see this nearly every day as well. Or backhoes, front-end loaders and dump trucks in the way while their operators are replacing sewer lines alongside or under the road.

Roll out the barrel.

Oh, deer

Did I mention deer? Around here, we have lots of them. While driving, I see deer most days. Sometimes on the road in front of me. Frequently in a field or in brush near the pavement. This morning, one deer dashed into the road in front of me and another driver. Both of us were alert, and we slammed on our brakes to let the deer pass. Thankfully, the car driving on my tailpipe saw what was going on and stopped, too.

That, by the way, is one of my biggest fears: Someone tailgating me won’t see an emergency in front of me, and will rear-end my van. If you drive like that, back off, please. You make me very nervous.

What’s my point here? As a driver, I see many distractions every day. I have to pay attention to what I’m doing.

I saw one news article after the Kalamazoo tragedy saying that perhaps bicyclists should not be allowed to share the road with cars and trucks any more. Because one driver, possibly a drunk driver, couldn’t control his vehicle? That’s like saying we should shut down the Cincinnati Zoo because one child fell into a gorilla exhibit. One time.

There’s a reason we have drunk-driving laws. There’s a reason we don’t want you texting while driving. It’s to protect not only you, but the rest of us as well.

Just ask the families of those bicyclists in Kalamazoo.

My heart goes out to them. I’m so sorry.

It’s not about you

I drive defensively because I cannot afford to replace our vehicles every year, and neither can my employer. We have to take care of them. The potential for physical injuries and loss of life should be reason enough to drive safely; protecting our material assets should matter, too.

There are enough distractions outside the front windshield. You don’t need more troubles inside your vehicle, or inside your body.

Pay attention. For my sake.

The world does not revolve around you. Look up. Look out. See what’s going on around you. There’s plenty out there to keep you engaged.

When our sons were learning to drive, I gave them one piece of advice: Get there. Wherever you’re going, get there. No matter how long it takes. No matter what distractions you face. Take a deep breath if you have to.

Just get there.

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