Sunday, October 23, 2016

We Should Not Overestimate the Driving Skills of the Typical Philadelphia Motorist

Wonder Bar, Asbury Park
A little while ago I was walking home from the gym. It was a pleasant, warm afternoon. As I crossed 19th Street eastbound, walking on the south side of Lombard, the driver of a red SUV headed west on Lombard turned left down 19th without signaling and came directly at me. I was in the crosswalk, smack in the middle of the street. I assumed he would slow down. He didn't slow down. I jumped. He stopped.

In retrospect, I don't think I was ever in danger. My jump got me clear of the SUV's path, and the driver stopped before he got to where I had been. Still, there were two or three seconds when I didn't know any of this.

As I said, it was a warm day. The driver had his window down. An older fellow, white hair. Maybe two arm's lengths from me. We had a brief conversation - not cordial, perhaps, but at least civil.

He said he hadn't seen me because the sun had been in his eyes. I suggested that, if he couldn't see where he was going, it might be more appropriate to touch the brake than the accelerator.

He said he had a green light. I said I also had a green light and that, in addition, I had the right of way. He actually looked a little puzzled when I said that. Then he said he was sorry. I thanked him for his apology, and we both moved on.

I tell this story because I think it illustrates several common shortcomings of Philadelphia drivers. I'm going to classify these idiosyncrasies into four groups.

Astounding Ignorance of the Rules of the Road
Did my driver actually not understand the concept of the pedestrian right-of-way? Was it perhaps a term he hadn't heard in a long time - maybe since high school? I don't know. I'm just glad he stopped, even if it was only out of the goodness of his heart. I can almost hear him saying to himself on the way home, "Me and my two tons of fun almost killed someone." And shaking his head in disbelief.

Amazingly Deficient Driving Technique
Many Philadelphians do love to barrel around turns at speed. It's a much better idea to brake before you initiate a turn, and then accelerate slightly as you're pulling out of the turn. If you find you have to brake during the turn, you'll notice that the steering gets mushy. Brake in a straight line; then a slight acceleration will optimize your control of the car as you come out of the turn. This strategy also means you'll be better prepared to stop if a pedestrian pops up out of the pavement in the middle of a crosswalk. They sprout like mushrooms, you know.

Non-Existent Coping Mechanisms
Who knew? The sun gets low in the sky before it actually goes down. It can get in a driver's eyes. Dark glasses? A baseball cap? The visor that the car's manufacturer so thoughtfully provides? My driver's defenses against the sun were entirely undeployed.

Driver's Trance
This is more commonly called highway hypnosis, and even more commonly called "going along with the traffic." After all, if you just follow the bumper of the car ahead of you, what can possibly go wrong?

I remember talking to a lady who was in a T-bone crash at 17th and Lombard. She was unhurt, but pretty shaken up. All she could say was, "I never saw the light."

Okay. Situational awareness, folks. Stay alert. Look around - people used to call this circumspection.

I told the lady not to beat herself up. We're all human. We miss things. But at least we can all try to stay alert.

It strikes me that we have a ways to go on this Vision Zero stuff.

See also Rugged IndividualismThe Semiotics of Parking on the Street, and Vision Zero in Philadelphia.

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