Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dan Moser's Florida Weekly Column: Distracted driver causes intersection smash-up

Florida Weekly 10/6/10

Crash illustrates vulnerability of runners, walkers and cyclists

Recently I was using the crosswalk to get across U.S. 41 from Gladiolus to Six Mile Cypress when a red light runner heading south slammed into another vehicle that was making its turn. Both cars were wrecked badly. Because I was so close to the crash I was among the first to reach the victims. Fortunately for both drivers and their child passengers, everyone appeared to be uninjured. The fact that the woman whose minivan was broadsided by the red light runner was nine months pregnant made their apparent condition yet another confirmation of the effectiveness of seatbelts, airbags and child car seats.

As the motorists were getting their children out of their vehicles I asked the person who caused the crash if she was on her phone since she never even hit her brakes. She assured me she was neither talking nor texting. A while later I asked again how she managed to enter the intersection on a red light after at least half-a-dozen vehicles that had a green signal were well into their left turn. It was then that she admitted her child was fussing in the back seat and she was turned around dealing with the situation — clearly a case of distracted driving.

About an hour after leaving the scene of the crash and tending to the tasks I was planning to do before being sidetracked it dawned on me that I very well could have been the victim of this red light runner. As I recalled the timing of events (it appeared as slow-motion as I watched it unfold in front of me) I realized that had I not waited until the pedestrian signal turned to “WALK” I would have been the victim. Needless to say, unlike everyone in the cars, I wouldn’t have walked away from this one.

Being at the mercy of traffic operations managers, I’m often frustrated by the second-class status we get when we use pedestrian features. In order to make vehicle traffic flow as quickly and efficiently as possible (making the “car sewer” work) crosswalk users are frequently made to wait longer than is appropriate or equitable. In this particular case I could see that even though I hadn’t yet gotten the walk signal it should have been safe to start crossing since vehicles in the lanes closest to me already had a red light. But I had decided to wait what turned out to be a mere few seconds until the signal illuminated, a decision that turned out to be the difference between life and death.

I’m relating this story of distracted driving to remind everyone who is a vulnerable road user to be ever-vigilant and not be distracted, lest we become victims. We’ll almost assuredly pay a high price if others screw up. Because of this, we must pay enough attention to see it coming and be able to react. This goes for vehicular cycling as well as side-path riding, walking and running. In my case, I feel very fortunate to have been following the rules precisely and being hyper-aware of my surroundings at this very busy, multi-lane high-speed intersection.

Advocacy update

Unless Lee County commissioners agree to amend their recent decision involving resurfacing a number of roads we’ll once again be missing opportunities to add paved shoulders to those without any bike accommodations. Among them are roads that are on popular cycling routes. Contact your commissioner and urge him or her to approve the funding necessary to do what’s needed as part of these and all resurfacing projects. Better yet, come to the meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 12, when the Lee Department of Transportation presents updated cost estimates for consideration as additions to the approved projects. For a complete list of roads being resurfaced, go to BikeWalkLee’s blog page.

Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and trails.

— Dan Moser is a league cycling instructor/trainer and program manager
for the Florida Bicycle Association who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation,recreation and fitness.

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