Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Scaring drivers

I had two incidents recently where I scared a driver, and had a brief and positive conversation with them afterwards.

 I was on the new connection from Mass Ave to Main street.  The beige SUV in front of me turned right onto Main street, completely cutting through the bike lane (which I expected, everyone does that there- and had consequently not put myself in that space where I could be squished).  What I wasn't expecting was for her to slam on the brakes right after she turned (still in the bike lane).
I  slammed on my brakes (fortunately wasn't going very fast)  yelled HEY! at the top of my lungs,  and after a moment to collect myself, rode up alongside the driver's side window, where the passenger was busy consulting a map and the driver was looking around apprehensively.  I said- hey there-  you really scared me when you stopped short like that.   She said-  You really scared me when you yelled- I thought I'd hit someone!  I grumbled something more about not parking in the bike lane,  and she started to apologize,  she was lost, she was from out of town,  she was just trying to pull over so that she could look at the map safely, and that she'd be happy to move, and she was sorry she had scared me.  I told her I was sorry I had scared her too,  but she should be a little more careful, there are lots of bikes here.

The other incident was on Harvard Ave.  There's one cross street, that's a bit of a blind corner,  and cars inch out so that they can see whether they have a space to cross.  I'm coming down a hill here, and I try to always be pretty far left in the lane so that they won't push me into traffic, or so that I can take evasive action if they don't see me (or if they see me, but don't register me, or how fast I'm coming).
I was coming down the hill the other morning when a big garbage truck comes to that intersection.  I'm not sure if he was just inching out to see, or rolling the stop,  but his wheels were still moving, so I yelled HEY!  HEY!  HEY!   The driver threw up his hands and yelled "I see you", in kind of an annoyed tone.

At the light (he'd pulled out behind me)  he yelled in a not-unfriendly tone- "you really scared me back there!"  I pulled my bike closer so he could hear me,  and said,   "I wasn't sure you saw me, and the consequences are so awful if you didn't that I thought I'd make sure.  I'm sorry I scared you."
He smiled and waved back, the light changed, and we were on our way.

There are a lot of these  "almost"  accidents- things that scare us, leave  both parties' hearts pumping and adreniline coursing through our veins, but ultimately no harm done.  The problem is that the consequences for  a bike if an accident actually happens are asymmetric with the consequences to the car.
Tom Vanderbilt, in his book Traffic,  has an interesting passage about how the best way to reduce industrial fatalities is to look at the pyramid of accidents- for every 100 near accidents, there is 1 minor accidents, for every 100 minor accidents 1 major accident etc.  Industrial safety engineers find that the best way to reduce fatalities is to concentrate on reducing the near accidents,  and the more severe accidents reduce proportionally.  It seems too logical to be true, but it's evidently quite effective.

I wonder if the increase in automobile safety features (airbags, crumple zones etc) makes drivers a little more careless about near accidents,  and I wonder what could be done to help them be a little more scared, and hence more careful of the unarmored among them?

Sorry for the wordy and imageless posts lately.  I lost my camera riding in the rain last week- put it in my pocket to "protect it"  and it wasn't there when I reached home. New one (and hopefully better pictures) coming soon!

1 comment:

  1. I thought about your post all day. I know I intimidate drivers, but I'd just as soon NOT scare them. It would be nice, however, if they'd focus a little more on the task at hand.

    I'm glad to see you report you keep an eye on what those wheels are doing. Wheels don't lie.