During this past week, I witnessed four drivers run red lights. A semi, the size of a large moving van, barreled through a red light seconds before my friend and I would have entered the intersection. I observed two sedans, on two separate occasions, roll through red lights as if they were green in their direction… they were not. The fourth, a truck, actually sped up to enter the intersection on a red light. The light turned green in his direction when he was about half-way through.
I can’t say one way or another if cell phones or alcohol were involved, but all four instances happened in broad daylight. Since I don’t put a lot of miles on my car, I’m not sure if this was just a terrible week of driver inattention, or if running red lights is now so common that I witnessed only a fraction of what is regularly occurring on the roads.
A little over a year ago, I was hit by a van whose driver ran a red light and entered an intersection as I was about to make a left turn. The good news is that he “only” destroyed the front third of my car. I was shaken up but not hurt. The bad news (besides being hit in the first place), was that I was driving an electric car. Because the charging port is on the front of the car, my beloved LEAF had to be totaled since fixing it proved to be too costly.
As I was sitting in my car in the middle of the intersection, wondering what just happened, the other driver pulled to the curb and got out of his car. He was on his cell phone. I’m not proud of the words that came out of my mouth, but I was angry and my adrenaline was running on high. I realized that I could have very easily been further out into the intersection (I was the first car to enter it) which would have resulted in my injury, or worse. I was also incensed that he was on his phone since I know that they are a factor in many collisions.
He claimed that he wasn’t on the phone while he was driving, that he called his wife just after the collision happened to let her know. (Yeah, right, the very first thing I’d do if I hit someone would be to call my husband.) He told me that some pizza boxes he had stacked on his passenger seat had started to slip and, when he reached down to steady them, he missed the fact that the light had turned red. Uh-huh. Fortunately, he took full responsibility (I had several witnesses if he hadn’t) and was fully insured.
Even though I wasn’t physically harmed in the collision (I don’t think these types of car crashes should be called “accidents”), I can tell—more than a year later—that I’ve been affected by it psychologically. I am more nervous and hyper-alert (some may call it paranoid) when I am in a car, as the driver or not. I hesitate just a little longer before entering an intersection, especially when I am the first car there. Even when all cars are stopped, clearing the way for me to go through, I scan both ways constantly as I proceed just to make sure someone (on the phone or steadying pizza boxes) doesn’t barrel through at the last minute. I don’t like the feeling of not being in control of the unknowns and “what ifs” of other drivers.
This past week, when I saw those drivers running through red as if it was green, I realize that I’m not overly paranoid at all. Because drivers feel perfectly comfortable talking on the phone, texting, watching movies, reading emails, applying makeup, and eating lunch while piloting several thousand pounds of steel down the road, we all need to be more vigilant. You can’t shield yourself 100% from gross negligence, but you can take precautions to protect yourself as much as possible.
Please be careful out there.