Tuesday, July 15, 2008


As a constant and unrepentant pedestrian I suppose it's inevitable that I get hit by cars every few years. This morning I was hit for the third time -- I've got a nice scrape on my knee from a license plate -- and as stood amazed at the edge of the road I had a sudden revelation:

I am always hit by drivers who are turning right, either at a stop sign or at a red light. As these people pull up they see a gap in the traffic and they decide to take advantage of it, never coming to a complete stop, jumping quickly out toward the propitious gap...and slamming into ME as I cross the street.

The first time this happened a police car literally RAN OVER MY FOOT. The second time a man -- with his windshield so iced over that he could barely see -- drove six feet with me on his hood before he realized I was there. This morning the homicidal driver was a woman who -- fortunately -- was not talking on her cel phone when she whacked me.

In all three cases I have been fortunate to suffer nothing more than scrapes and bruises. I come away from these accidents far less rattled than the drivers, who have suddenly seen their licenses, reputations, and freedom pass before their eyes. I like to think that by being calm in these situations -- not yelling, not sniffing around for a lawsuit -- I am teaching some people to be better drivers. And maybe, if *I* do something terrible someday, somebody will do the same for ME.

We all make mistakes, of course.

Which brings me to the traffic safety tip of the day. Pedestrians, you should ALWAYS try to make eye contact with drivers before you cross the street, to make sure they SEE you. Sometimes they'll look right through you, and sometimes they're too busy salivating over the God-given traffic gap to actually look in your direction, but you can often avoid pain (or death) by looking for the whites of their eyes first.


Anonymous said...

wow! I live in a far more murderous place as far as traffic is concerned but by the grace of God (touch wood), our drivers and I have so far managed to avoid me getting run over. :)

Anonymous said...

Maybe, just maybe it is the fact that there are so many of us and that it is so chaotic that makes both pedestrians and drivers more careful at junctions. Long straight high speed roads are unfortunately and in the literal sense, killers.

Anonymous said...

Eye contact is a great idea. Pedestrians and drivers mutually acknowledging each other helps the street-crossing "transaction" safely to completion.

Even though pedestrians have the right-of-way, a friend reminded me of the saying, "Dead-right or dead-wrong, dead is still dead!"

Be careful out there.

Adam Thornton said...

I'm sure that the level of chaos has something to do with it; if you constantly need to watch for unpredictable pedestrians, I'm sure that you become a more careful driver.

Here in town, however, there aren't huge flocks of pedestrians and it's assumed that we generally follow the rules. So I suspect that drivers get a bit lazy.

Adam Thornton said...

Gary, amazingly I didn't learn the "eye contact" thing from my childhood...I learned it as an adult from watching "walk safely" videos made for kids during the '50s. It really does work!

Unfortunately, some drivers don't appear to be looking at you -- or more likely they're wearing glasses -- so you can only guess that they've seen you...otherwise you'll NEVER be able to cross.

That's what happened with the driver yesterday; she had glasses and appeared to have noticed me, so I crossed and then BAM!

You know how they say "you hear the shot before you feel the bullet?" Strangely, I heard the enormous sound of my hitting the car before I realized I'd actually been hit. It was like, "What was that sound? Oh, OUCH!"

Kimber said...

Oh my gosh! Poor Muffy!!! I can't believe you don't lose it and freak on these people.

There are no sidewalks where we live and we take our chances walking the dog at night. It's a country road, but people do tend to drive like speed demons on it.

My bro-in-law very thoughtfully bought us each a hideous orange reflective vest to wear when we venture out...perhaps I should send one to you?

Adam Thornton said...

The orange vest might work! Do you make the dog wear one as well?

Since I know that *I* make stupid mistakes while driving, I know how it feels to get burned, and how grateful (and doubly cautious) I am when I escape unscathed.

I figure if neither of us are injured in any significant way, the best thing I can do is be nice...that way the only thing the driver can take from the experience is a sense of "I'd better not do that again," as opposed to "That pedestrian was a jerk!"

I'm sure that hitting somebody is enough of a motivation for self-improvement...I figure a lecture or a speech isn't necessary.

And like I said, I hope that if the same thing ever happens to me, the victim will be equally nice about it. :)

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, "All's well that ends well." I, too, was not taught about eye contact when crossing the street. Education on that matter was mostly, "Cross at the green, not in between."

Sometimes a wave of the hand will get the driver's attention - which leads to the necessary eye contact. Humans, like our pets, are sensitive to gestures (polite ones, of course!).

Regarding orange safety vests: I don't know how you usually tend to dress when you're out & about, but avoid dark colors on overcast days and at night. At these times, you may not be able to make good eye contact with drivers.

At least have one bright-colored garment or accessory that will reflect light. It doesn't have to look like a life jacket or road workers's vest.

What's useful is the material now used on some walking & running shoes. It's "retro-reflective" - that shimmery material that lights up in a car's headlight.

A clip-on blinking safety light can also help on those dark country roads. (Walking against traffic is recommended - the headlights will pick you up, and you won't have to look behind you as often.)

Hope this is helpful!


By the way, here in the Big (dented) Apple, drivers are often blissfully "unaware" that they have hit someone. The theory that "hitting somebody is enough of a motivation for self-improvement" has yet to be proven here.

For every "Hey, I'm walkin' here! I'm WALKIN' here!!" we've got a matching "You talkin' to ME??"


Anonymous said...

You always manage to dodge out of the way when I try to run you over. Perhaps you are just not paying enough attention when I am not around.

Adam Thornton said...

My theory of "driver-education by letting them strike you" only works for the guiltier-types of Canadians, the ones who were raised to feel a permanent sense of inadequacy and shame.

Amazingly, I have NOT (yet) been hit by a car at night or twilight. It always happens during the morning commuter rush-hour, when the sun is bright but everybody is blinded by either sleepiness or anxiety.

Adam Thornton said...

Oh I see you, Mike...what disappoints ME is that my dodge-manouvers are meant to lead you into oncoming traffic, but you always escape unscathed.

I shall triumph or die trying!

Anonymous said...

This happened to me once in Toronto. A driver was turning right at a stop sign and bumped me. I was perturbed, so I slapped the top of his car as a way of saying "I'm walkin' here!".

Then the driver got out of his car, and he happened to be the LARGEST, ANGRIEST MAN ON EARTH. He threatened to beat the crap out of me for touching his car.

Terrified, I squealed "I had the right of way" and I scampered away in terror.

Eli McIlveen said...

Whoa. Glad you're okay!

I'm intrigued by these articles I've seen recently which suggest that things like traffic lights and stop signs can actually make driving more dangerous, by distracting us from what's actually going on around us. There's a good one in the Atlantic Monthly called "Distracting Miss Daisy".

Adam Thornton said...

Colin, see? I bet that angry guy was so touched by your selflessness that he forever reformed his ways!

Or he went home and kicked the dog, maybe.

Adam Thornton said...

Eli, I've heard this idea as well, and I wonder if it doesn't have something to do with all these roundabouts...