"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

Sometimes pedestrians DON'T have the right of way!

At least five people nearly died earlier this evening, because one driver decided to yield to pedestrians in a very dangerous way. You won't ever read about it in a newpaper because nothing horrible happened. My kids, however, can attest to my bad language under heavy stress.

stock photo courtesy of www.pbase.com 2008Do you drive through controlled intersections at full speed? Luckily, I usually don't. Tonight's incident occurred on a busy four-lane highway under a standing green light. I doubt I was going faster than about 45 mph (in a 55 zone) at the time. In addition to the four through-lanes, this highway has two dedicated left turn lanes, one from each direction. That way, you can be out of the way while you wait for the all-clear.

The offending driver, coming at me (northbound) from the opposing left-turn lane, was trying to beat me through the intersection. I was going straight, headed southbound in the right-hand lane, with my two boys in the other seats. He stopped directly in my path, perpendicular to my 6,000-pound truck. Why? Because the driver realized, well after committing to this ill-advised turning attempt, that the crosswalk contained two pedestrians: appeared to be a dad and daughter walking their bikes. Pedestrians "always" have the right-of-way, goes the common wisdom. So he stopped to wait for the walkers. Stopped right there in front of my moving vehicle. Brilliant.

I mashed the brake pedal and tried vainly to check my left mirror for the chance to veer away into the left lane, with my hand firmly on my Chevy's very loud horn. By the time our truck rocked to a shaky stop we could see the front seat passenger quite clearly, since he was only a dozen or so feet away from my massive front bumper. Was he scared, or at least relieved to have escaped an almost-certain death? Nope, he was holding up the backs of both hands to us, middle fingers extended, and yelling a phrase that begins with "F" at us through the closed window. Stupid us, huh?

When do you have the right of way while making a left turn? When you have a green arrow for that turn, and/or the oncoming lanes are completely clear. Oh, yeah -- you might want to check the paralleling crosswalk, too! When is it a good idea to stop at right angles in the path of a moving truck? ...I'm thinking...um, never? In this case both walkers had yet to reach the section of crosswalk that Mr. Turnfast needed to drive across. The coast was clear for him to proceed. But we were the ones in the wrong, apparently.

Here's the thing. If another driver, travelling behind me at full speed and not paying quite enough attention, had struck my back bumper, then you probably could read all about this incident in the newspaper. Chances are very good that both pedestrians, all three people in the stopped car, and the three of us in our truck would all have suffered injuries or death. What if I'd been even a tiny bit distracted? What if I'd been going 55 mph, like many drivers do? (Read the laws in your state: most require "speed prudent for conditions" in a traffic-lighted intersection.) What if I hadn't removed about 500 pounds of tools from the back of my pick-up before my boys and I headed out that night? (Trying to save gas.)

Prudence. That's a very good word and concept to keep in mind when you're driving. The turning driver had allowed about a two-second clearance between his vehicle and mine for his important left turn -- plenty of time (I suppose) if no one was in the crosswalk. "Look twice, live longer" might be another good idea. After all, cars (and trucks) don't kill -- bad drivers do. Thank God no one died this evening. Enough said.