Friday, November 2, 2012

Deliberately Driving Badly

I could have killed a kid yesterday. Me, who speaks to high risk and drunk drivers multiple times monthly; who thinks about the dangers of driving nearly constantly; who has learned the agonizingly hard way how important being a safe, responsible driver is.

I was just doing what we all do every day: making a right turn on a red light. And this wasn’t a situation where I almost stopped like so many people do. I had been stopped for at least 30 seconds. No one had come from the left for some time. So I started to go... and then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the skateboarder in the crosswalk, coming from the right, where I wasn’t even looking. Obviously. Really, I didn’t even come close to hitting him, but it was still jarring. I stopped, he skated past, I did the apologetic hand gesture and “sorry” look, and as my eyes followed him, I noticed the crosswalk light beyond, giving him the right of way. 

My new pessimistic, PTSD-inclined self plays the possible media coverage in my head: Kristi Finney, mother of a bicyclist killed while riding in a bike lane, mowed down a skateboarder in the crosswalk. I go on to think of all the horrendous injuries (or death!) that could possibly be inflicted, maybe there was a dragging of the young man under the car or he hit the windshield (like Dustin), witness descriptions of the horror they’d seen, the reporter saying the police had arrested me for negligent driving/failure to yield/who knows what…

Bicyclist from Vancouver killed in Portland hit and run; man arrested

Dustin Finney was college student, wanted to be forest ranger

The Columbian coverage

But honestly, the first thought that came to me when I wrote that I almost hit a skateboarder in the crosswalk, was imagining the comments people might make. There would be the ones who commiserated with both sides: a horrible tragedy. There would be the ones blaming me. And, the most unsettling, and I know this without a doubt, there would be people blaming the teenager in the crosswalk who was crossing on his green. Those damn pedestrians, they’re so hard to see. And he was on a skateboard, so he probably just came out of nowhere, moving faster than a regular pedestrian. Roads are for cars, damn it!

The main reason for this particular post, though, isn’t even about me. It’s about that strange indifference to highway carnage that I wrote about several days ago. It’s about people making the conscious decision to drive badly. Maybe you’re thinking, well, who would do that? Almost everyone, and often. On my facebook page alone, within 2 days, I read about someone driving 50 on a 35 mph road in a residential neighborhood that passes two schools and a popular fast food joint AND someone planning to “drive like a mad dog” 150 miles. 

(6) These deliberately bad drivers are just regular people like you and me. They are you and me. (Well, hopefully not me anymore). I think the reasons we do this are multiple and it’s about our beliefs: we believe “it won’t happen” to us. We believe we drive better than everyone else. We believe we can handle things we question other people’s ability to handle (using the phone, driving after drinking, speeding, etc). We believe our vehicles have the protection in place to keep us safe if someone else does something to us (which they won’t, because we believe it can’t happen to us). We believe we have a right, or at least a reason, to drive a particular illegal way at particular times.

(7) And what I think is the most truthful reason we deliberately drive dangerously: We believe our needs are more important than other people’s needs… or rights.  As a matter of fact, I think – I believe – most of us, most of the time, are not even thinking about others at all. Speeding? Gotta be first? Gotta answer that phone call or text? Gotta run that red light because you’ve been sitting there a couple minutes and the green wasn’t long enough? Gotta tailgate the car that’s only going 5 miles over the speed limit instead of the 10-15-20 that you want to go even though they’re passing slower traffic and they can’t move out of your way right then? 
September 5, 2012. A 35 year old woman in a Suburban, trying to pass, hit the right front of the red Vibe, causing it to swerve into oncoming traffic, where it struck the Jeep head on. The 22 year old Vibe driver was killed, the 52 year old driver of the Jeep suffered serious injuries.  Oregon State Police news release

I have probably done every one of those things, and more, except the last one. Once I thought about it – once I learned the hard way – I realized I deliberately drove badly even when I didn’t need to. Even when by doing so I’d get where I was going early, for example. 

So who are these other people whose needs and rights we are not even thinking about? The other drivers on the road, obviously. The pedestrians, the bicyclists. The other people in your car: your parents, your children, your best friend, your co-worker, Grandma. Witnesses. Your loved ones not in your car. The loved ones of everyone in all of the cars around you. The police, firefighters, paramedics who respond to vehicle crashes. The prosecutors and judges who are put in the position of having to see what people do to each other and then having to decide what to do about it.

That’s not even a comprehensive list. But had we thought about any of them as we put the pedal to the metal while engaging in potentially dangerous behavior? No, because we… go back to paragraphs 6 and 7. 

I believe it is every person’s responsibility to consciously drive the very best that they can. Even our very best is going to fall short at times, like my wake up close call yesterday. “Accidents” happen, but most of what people refer to as “accidents” aren’t. 

Drive safe. For everyone’s sake.


  1. Great post! Very well written and to the very core of an ignored issue .... we ALL do stupid things while driving; thinking in a manner that can only be considered self centered and arrogant at times .... I have tried to be more conscious of my bad habits behind the wheel, but I still find myself being sucked in to the mix when someone cuts me off in a typical "Oregon" driver moment!(...inside joke ...). Maybe we all need a reminder , a mantra if you will; something that will get us into a safer state of mind before we turn the key...perhaps a little picture or text attached to the dash/key that will set the tone and make us remember exactly what you have written CAN happen to me;therefore I must take driving seriously and suppress the need to answer the phone , to speed , to text , to give in to rage or to know when I may NOT be capable of driving safely...

  2. I had a guy come out of an alley as I was turning right at a stop light and just about broadside me on a bike I didn't see him but it could have been bad we don't expect people to do that. He raged at me and I felt terrible it was just a few months after your son died.The extent of my vigilance was up already, and yes I did think too about the traffic report had anything happened. Yesterday I saw a guy reading AND writing something while doing about 50 over by the horse tracks. I remember years ago putting on makeup or holding and dialing a phone.Distracted driving is like so many other areas of our lives we are often on "auto-pilot. That's no excuse of course, and I think your blogs do grab attention. You're doing a good job at raising awareness about a very important issue. Thank you.

    1. I know I've been addressing drivers' bad behaviors but as you've pointed out, it's not limited to people behind the wheel. So many people on bikes or walking act like they are oblivious to the people around them, seem to think they are always completely visible, and also blatantly disobey laws. Truthfully, I think many bicyclists don't even know the laws. I'm sorry you had to suffer from that man's rage; I know how awful that can be.

      I really appreciate your support, Ellie. And I am very curious about who you are and how you happened to find me...