Look Both Ways

“Look both ways before you cross,”  words ingrained in every child’s brain. Mothers everywhere want their children to remain safe and to understand the importance of watching for cars.

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However, as drivers we need to remember to look both ways before we pull out into traffic.

On a recent bike ride on the Old Cutler Bike Trail I was pleased to see constant reminders to drivers to watch for pedestrians and bike riders.

I’m a prime example of why this is so important. As a 14 year-old high school student I was hit by a car on my way to the bus stop one morning. I saw the car approach the intersection which was clearly marked with a stop sign so I proceeded across the street. I knew the driver would stop.

What I didn’t know was that since the driver was taking a right hand turn, she slowed, glanced to her left, and then stepped on the gas to turn. Since I was crossing the road from the right side of her car, the driver never saw me. Her car hit me. Fortunately, her car was moving at a slow speed, and while bruised with a shattered elbow, my injuries were minor. It could have been much worse.

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At the time, I couldn’t understand how she hit me. There was a stop sign. I was standing right in front of her car.

As a driver, I know how easy it was to hit me. Yes, I was directly in front of her car, but she was driving east and likely blinded by the morning sun. Yes, there was a stop sign, but how often do drivers just glance to the left without really stopping when taking a right turn. Especially when rushing to work in the morning.

The driver should have been much more careful. The bus stop was on that corner. She knew there would be students at the bus stop and walking to it. She must have passed us every day. She needed to look both ways.

Watch for pedestrians. Watch for bike riders. Watch for motorcycles. Look both ways…not only for cars but for the walkers and cyclists as well.

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Don’t Swerve

Last week while driving into town, we passed a black bear that had been hit by a car and killed. When I read the article in the newspaper about the bear, I noticed that several readers responded by criticizing the driver claiming bears don’t dart across the street. Some even demanded the driver by held accountable for killing the bear.

Bears do dart! I’ve witnessed a bear dart across S.R. 40. Fortunately, it crossed about a half mile ahead of our car so it made it safely to the other side of the road. My brother also experienced a darting bear that managed to safely cross between two cars.

These bears weigh 300 pounds or more. Not only did the bear die, but the woman who hit the bear was hospitalized and her car was totaled. You’d have to be crazy to purposely hit a bear.

While the bear caught my attention this week, bears aren’t the only animals that are killed by cars or put drivers in danger. Opossums, squirrels, deer, and many other animals cause driving hazards.

No one wants to hit an animal while driving, but it’s going to happen. I’ve hit squirrels and a rabbit and the heron I hit crossing Alligator Alley made a real mess on my car, but remember what Coach M. said in Driver’s Ed, the most dangerous things on the road are the other cars. Hitting a rabbit is preferable to swerving and hitting another car.

This is even true when that animal is someone’s pet. I remember one of the pieces of advice from my Dad when I first started driving was to never swerve to avoid an animal. He said saving the life of a dog or cat was not worth risking serious injury or death to yourself or another person.

If you hit a dog or cat, stop to check on it when you can pull over safely, but make people your priority.

Of course, you’ll want to do all you can to avoid a bear or alligator or horse, but even hitting large animal is better than hitting another car, a tree, or a building.

I hope you never find yourself forced to hit an animal, but if you do, please take care of yourself and your passengers and don’t swerve.

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Slow Down and Move Over

I’m sure you’ve heard of Florida’s Move Over law that requires drivers to vacate the lane closest to an emergency vehicle, law enforcement vehicle, or tow truck when driving on the Interstate. And I’m confident that you know you are to slow down when approaching construction zones on our highways. But did you know that the Move Over law applies to sanitation and utility vehicles as well?

I didn’t until a friend told me she’d been pulled over for passing a garbage truck on Ft. King Street. She approached the truck decided she could safely pass since there was a lane available to the left of the truck in which she could drive. You can imagine her surprise when blue lights started flashing behind.

Truly confused, she asked what she’d done, to which the officer told her she’d violated the Move Over law. He went on to explain that drivers are required to reduce their speed by 20mph when passing a sanitation truck performing sanitation tasks. He then challenged her to think about how scary it would be to have traffic blow past while working on the side of the road.

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After admitting that she was unaware of the law, she explained her thought process as she passed the garbage truck, hoping to convince the officer she did carefully assess the situation prior to passing.

Fortunately, the officer used the opportunity to educate instead of writing a ticket and my friend’s spreading the word so others know of the requirements of the Move Over legislation. So, in addition to moving over on the Interstate, slow down when passing vehicles on city and neighborhood streets as well.

From Florida Statute 316.126Operation of vehicles and actions of pedestrians on approach of an authorized emergency, sanitation, or utility service vehicle.

If an authorized emergency vehicle displaying any visual signals is parked on the roadside, a sanitation vehicle is performing a task related to the provision of sanitation services on the roadside, a utility service vehicle is performing a task related to the provision of utility services on the roadside, or a wrecker displaying amber rotating or flashing lights is performing a recovery or loading on the roadside, the driver of every other vehicle, as soon as it is safe:

1. Shall vacate the lane closest to the emergency vehicle, sanitation vehicle, utility service vehicle, or wrecker when driving on an interstate highway or other highway with two or more lanes traveling in the direction of the emergency vehicle, sanitation vehicle, utility service vehicle, or wrecker, except when otherwise directed by a law enforcement officer. If such movement cannot be safely accomplished, the driver shall reduce speed as provided in subparagraph 2.
2. Shall slow to a speed that is 20 miles per hour less than the posted speed limit when the posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour or greater; or travel at 5 miles per hour when the posted speed limit is 20 miles per hour or less, when driving on a two-lane road, except when otherwise directed by a law enforcement officer.
Please, slow down and move over…not only to avoid a ticket, but for the safety of others.

 

Don’t Text and Drive – It’s the Law

no-texting-while-drivingI know you know the dangers of drinking and driving. This has been drilled in your head from the day you got your learner’s permit. In fact, even before you got your permit you took a drug and alcohol course. Then there was plenty of information in Driver’s  Ed regarding the dangers of drinking and driving.

Of course, each year there were dramatic displays of wrecked vehicles the week before homecoming or prom to serve as a visual reminder. Some years assemblies were held with speakers  who would share gut wrenching stories about accidents they had caused when driving under the influence or injuries they suffered at the hands of an impaired driver. These messages continued in college, but I know you’ve also seen many stories on television that have reinforced this message.

Unfortunately, you probably also know people who have not heeded these warnings and have been in accidents or had their license suspended due to poor choices regarding getting behind the wheel after drinking.

While I hope these messages have been imprinted in your brain so that drinking and driving is never a consideration for you, this is not the only dangerous activity to avoid while driving. More and more research has been done regarding other issues that impair a driver’s abilities behind the wheel and tired drivers and distracted drivers have been found to create dangers just as serious as those impaired by alcohol.

I know I find the phone a much more difficult problem. I can talk and drive! I’ve always talked to passengers and driven so what’s the difference? But apparently there are differences. So while I know we all talk to one another frequently while driving, please use extra caution. The more important task is driving – not talking on the phone. Don’t hesitate to ignore a call or hang up so you can to concentrate on the road. Please don’t talk on the phone if it’s raining, you’re  in a construction zone, the traffic is heavy, or you’re lost. Don’t talk on the phone if you’re upset or angry.

But most of all when it comes to your phone, don’t text while driving. I know how hard this is. I’m in the car and hear that “ding ding” indicating that I have a message. I want to grab the phone and read it immediately – I’m trained to respond when I hear that signal. That is a change that I need to make, we all need to make. Do not read the message and definitely do not text back!

If someone is in the car with you, let them read and respond to the texts. If you’re alone, let it wait. I know it seems like you can quickly check the message. I know I’ve done it. But it’s crazy. It’s stupid. It’s foolish. It’s dangerous.

Should you take the risk? What if you cause an accident? What if you get hurt? What if you hurt someone else? What if someone’s killed? What if you just wreck your car? Can you really afford a new car or the increase in your insurance?

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This is a commitment I plan to make and keep. No more picking up the phone to check that text – not even at the stop light! So if you send me a text, and I don’t answer and you really need an answer – call. I might be driving and unable to respond.

I hope you’ll join me and make a commitment to end texting while driving. And as an extra incentive, Florida’s legislature finally enacted legislation that will go in effect later this summer making the practice illegal. Maybe that’s what we all need to eliminate this bad habit.

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I also must send this quick note. I know I recently wrote about getting dressed when you get up in the morning. You may or may not have decided to take that advice, but PLEASE…if you are staying in a hotel and are going to the lobby for breakfast….get dressed! I’ve seen far too many pajama clad people while on vacation.

Be a Safe Driver!

crash dummiesThrough no fault of his own, Danny was in a serious car accident recently totaling the Expedition. Fortunately no one was injured beyond a few bumps and bruises but this incident inspired me to remind you of the importance of being a safe driver. I think Danny will attest to the importance of tip #6 and tip #8 below!

1. Don’t drink and drive. I know this is common sense, but it’s easy to think you’re capable of driving after just a few drinks. In fact, if you think you’re capable after drinking, that may be a sign you’ve had too much. Plan ahead for a designated driver or call for a ride. Even if you’re lucky enough not to cause an accident, the risk of getting caught and the consequences that follow are not worth the risk.

2. Be well rested before getting behind the wheel. I always enjoyed driving through the night – less traffic, less wasted time; but make sure you are not tired if you drive late at night. Don’t hesitate to stop, get out of the car, do jumping jacks, eat at the Waffle House, or better yet, look for a place to stay and get some sleep if you’re getting sleepy while driving.

3. Watch you speed. The slogan “speed kills” applies to driving as well as drugs. You are permitted to go slower than the posted speed limit especially when traffic or weather conditions don’t warrant the higher speeds. Don’t let other drivers push you to drive faster than conditions permit. Slow down and be safe.

4. No texting while driving. This wasn’t even something you could’ve have learned in driver’s ed when you were learning to drive since texting wasn’t an option at that time, but believe it or not, texting while driving is more dangerous than drinking and driving. Distracted driving is not safe driving.

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5. Keep your car safe. Besides having enough gas in the tank, check oil, coolant, tires, and other systems regularly. Also, pay attention to the signals the car provides concerning problems – NEVER continue driving when the light indicating overheating comes on! Doing so will insure you get to purchase a new car sooner than expected. Ouch! And, it’s just not safe.

6. Watch out for the other guy! This may be the most important tip of all. I’ve heard it said you should assume every other driver on the road is an idiot. That’s pretty good advice, and that’s why I look both ways when the light turns green. I check that all the idiots really are going to stop. Try to plan ahead for the stupid things other drivers do. (John Graham, a family friend, always said to make sure you can see the back tires of the car in front of you when at a stoplight to insure you will have room to go around in case of a problem. He found himself behind a car involved in a gunfight in Miami one day and this practice enabled him to get out of a dangerous situation…although usually it’s just a way around a disabled vehicle.)

7. Don’t’ let road rage get the best of you. This can be a tough one. Assuming all other drivers are idiots, it’s hard not to react to their stupidity. When others tailgate, cut you off, drive for miles with turn signals on, or do other irritating things; take a deep breath and resist the urge to shout at them, make obscene gestures, or retaliate with an equally stupid move behind the wheel. Remember your mom wants you to get to your destination safely.

8. Wear your seatbelt. This is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself from injury in case of an accident. I remember our first car with seatbelts. It was purchased in 1964 after an accident in a VW Karmann Ghia. We loved playing with them, but we also used them! Seatbelt use is essential for a safe trip – even around the block.

Seatbelts protected Danny and a teammate from "the other guy".
Seatbelts protected Danny and a teammate from “the other guy”.

Drive safely, and remember, as Grandma always says, “You can’t be too careful!”

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