One of my most prominent memories is being hit by a car when I was in eighth grade. I was on my bike and had the right-of-way across an intersection just south of a railroad crossing. Somehow, a driver turning left missed seeing my blue three-speed clunker in the middle of said intersection and plowed right into me.
I was coming from the public library and when I felt the impact, my first thought was, “I hope my books are OK.” Seriously. My next thought was my bike, which represented complete freedom to me. It had landed on the railroad tracks while I wound up in the road, and I immediately started to crawl toward it. The driver told me to stay still and fetched my bike and, in a manipulative move that still slays me to this day, said, “You probably don’t want to tell your parents about this. You wouldn’t want to get in trouble, would you?”
As a 13-year-old, I agreed, so after ascertaining that I had no broken bones, I hopped on my bike with its bent front wheel and wobbled my way home, bookbag slung over my shoulder and knees bleeding. (For the record, the only thing my parents were upset about is that they couldn’t find the guy who hit me.)
I often replay that scene when I’m cycling or walking in the greater Tucson area. Non-drivers are super vulnerable, especially near intersections and crosswalks. That seems counterintuitive, since we all learned in driver’s ed to be extra careful at intersections and crosswalks but ask any cyclist or pedestrian about their experiences at those locations and you’ll see driver’s ed lessons have been long forgotten.
According to the latest data from the Arizona Department of Transportation, 25 pedestrians died on Tucson streets in 2017 and 35 more people were killed in bicycle crashes, motorcycle wrecks or car accidents. Most of these deaths are completely preventable; they are literally in our hands when our hands are on the wheel.
I’m not a blameless driver. I can be just as distracted as the next person, thinking about where I’m headed and what needs to be done more than scanning the roads for pedestrians or cyclists. Indeed, just the other day I was waiting to turn right on red at the corner of a busy intersection and almost hit a pedestrian.
I had looked left-right-left, as we are all trained to do at right turns, but as I started to turn, an older couple stepped out from behind the light post on the corner to cross the street. They had the right of way – the little walking man signal was on – but I hadn’t seen them the first time I looked right because they were huddled behind the post seeking a tiny bit of shade. Also, I hadn’t thought to check for the walk signal.
In a city with so many bikes and pedestrians, all drivers should be doing a left-right-left-right scan, plus looking over our right shoulder for cyclists and checking for the walk signal at every intersection.
I employed this extra-careful attention for the rest of my 15-minute drive, and it added about two minutes to my trip. But I didn’t hit anyone and only one driver behind me got antsy and honked his take-the-turn-already! horn.
What drivers must realize every time we step behind the wheel is that vehicles aren’t just a means of transportation. They’re a potentially lethal weapon.
Yes, some cyclists behave abominably, and some pedestrians appear to have an allergic aversion to crosswalks and cut across the middle of the street. But these knuckleheads don’t mean drivers should have a free pass.
It’s spring, the weather’s getting spectacular and lots of people are out and about on foot, bike, skateboard, scooter or unicycle, enjoying living some place not covered in snow. If you’re in a vehicle, remember to watch out for everyone who is not. “Share the road” needs to be more than a slogan if we’re going to take care of each other.