How I Drive

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter and I were walking home and crossed National Ave. at Grand heading east. We were in the middle of the intersection when a pickup truck tried to shoot the gap from behind us. He was heading east on Grand and wanted to turn left to go north on National. He entered the intersection on the red light — cutting off west-bound traffic and cutting across our path in the crosswalk. So, really, there was no gap to shoot. This guy just took over the intersection.

Much to our amusement, a police officer just happened to be in the west-bound lane of Grand. He hit his lights instantly and pulled behind the guy. They both pulled into the Break Time parking lot.

We were heading into Break Time to get some coffee for the rest of the walk home. But we took a moment to gawk — and make snide remarks — as the guy received a well-deserved ticket. We made sure he saw us laughing at him.

OK, yes, petty. But very entertaining. For once street  justice worked in our favor, and we just wanted to enjoy the moment.

I have been thinking about how I drive. I noticed what seemed like my driving habits getting better shortly after I began using a bicycle as basic transportation five years ago. I say “seemed” because this could just be a feeling based simply on my being differently-aware of traffic from the vantage point of a bicyclist and pedestrian.

When I started writing Carbon Trace, however, I made a specific commitment to myself: I would follow the letter and spirit of the law and safety recommendations at all times while driving a motor vehicle. That jerk in the pickup truck? I’ve been him. I’ve been a typical American driver — self-centered, self-righteous, and unlawful. I’ve had the typical American attitude that the law applies to me only if I get caught. I’ve had the typical American attitude that, as a free individual, I can do as I please behind the wheel of a car to maximize my own convenience — the rest of you be damned.

Following the law is difficult. It means really driving no more than 25 mph in the neighborhoods. It means understanding that a speed limit is a LIMIT and not the speed you must go. It means really stopping at stop signs. It means really yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks. It means really not making U-turns any damned place you please even when no one is around.

The sad thing is: I don’t succeed in this effort as much as I’d like. Old habits and attitudes are difficult to change.

Traffic looks and feels a lot different from the perspective of following the rules. It’s not at all a comfortable perspective. The numbers are stacked against you.

I wonder what role our self-understandings as drivers plays in the choices of so many people not to use a bicycle as a means of basic transportation.

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Comments 4

  1. robert wrote:

    I got into an argument with my wife this week while driving to Ash Grove to a high school track meet.

    We were headed down a rural, twisty, hilly road that was posted at 55 mph. My wife was driving about 50 mph down this road and I was scared.

    I was not scared that we would crash but I wondered what would happen if we went around one of these corners or crested a hill at our current speed of 5 mph under the speed limit.

    I started telling her she was driving too fast and you can just imagine how that turned out. LOL

    bicycling everywhere has turned me into a bit of a social outcast where I cant drive faster than I could comfortably stop if the unexpected happened in front of me. On that particular road I felt that was about 40 mph.

    And because I was being a jerk…..I got to drive the rest of it at 40 mph with my wife sitting and stewing in the passenger seat.

    Posted 27 Apr 2009 at 2:51 pm
  2. Keri wrote:

    Great post! It’s such a gleeful moment when a police officer is there to nail a jerk!

    Yeah, a lot of the comments I get from people who can’t imagine riding a bike are relating to their own inattentiveness behind the wheel… they are afraid to share the road with themselves!

    I really work at being a conscientious driver, too. I drive the speed limit… or as Robert points out, less than the speed limit if it feels unsafe. That draws the ire of other drivers. At time’s I’ve wanted to rip off my rear view mirror because I’m sick of it being filled with the grill of an SUV.

    It is not the cultural norm here to yield to pedestrians, so sometimes the peds make it harder by not crossing when I try to yield to them. They stand at the crosswalk and look at their feet.

    Posted 27 Apr 2009 at 5:02 pm
  3. Annie wrote:

    I think, more importantly than following the law to the letter, is recognizing the spirit of the law and what’s trying to be accomplished by it.

    Drivers are so conditioned to speed up while passing, that when they encounter a bike they don’t consider the effects of speeding up vs slowing down while passing him. I still regularly encounter people who follow me at 10mph until it’s safe to pass, than blast by at 35 before returning to 30 in the posted 25mph zone.

    Posted 01 May 2009 at 10:51 am
  4. Jamie Wynne wrote:

    I think that all laws and rules have applicable uses but are not always useful. Why not do a u turn when it’s safe? Why sit at a red light for a minute and a half at 1 in the morning when there is clearly no one coming, just because the light is red? When do we use our brains and just do what makes sense and is safe? Why be sheepish about common sense? Following rules for the sake of following rules seems short sighted and antiquated. Progress will stand still with this behavior.

    Posted 03 May 2009 at 8:46 am