Friday, April 15, 2011

When distraction meets impatience

I’m a commuter. I have never lived closer than 25 miles from work. This never seemed abnormal to me, having grown up with a father who commuted great distances to New York city every day, albeit by bus or train. Having recently moved, I have a new set of roadways to consider—I had done the old commute from Ipswich for so long that I knew every permutation and possibility for getting to Watertown, and I also knew which stretches of road required extra attention.

My new commute requires that I drive a ten mile stretch on Interstate 495. It had previously occurred to me, from traffic reports and first hand accounts by veterans of that roadway, that 495 is a dangerous place. More bizarre things seem to happen there than on all the other superhighways in greater Boston combined. [Do a Google image search for route 495 and see what I mean.] This has been borne out in my months of driving that short section of 495. I have witnessed: a flipped horse trailer; stalled tractor trailers on the same bridge crossing the Merrimack on consecutive days; a wheel fall off a BMW directly in front of me; a mobile home, a great BIG mobile home, come off its trailer hitch producing a shower of sparks as the front of the trailer hit the ground and I wondered if the safety chains really could hold—they did long enough for me to build some boost and rocket away.

Last night, 495 was uneventful. They next leg on my journey as I head north is a few miles on a divided, four lane road with lots of stop lights and commercial activity. It’s tedious, but only lasts a few minutes, and until last night was never exciting. Right at the state line, a ratty looking Mitsubishi sport coupe (lots of primer and dents) zoomed up behind me and then cut hard into the left lane and passed me. She certainly was in a hurry. Over the next mile she made so many lane changes trying to get ahead that I lost count. Not surprisingly, despite her haste and irresponsible maneuvering (never a directional), she actually lost ground and ended up behind me again. At this point, we were at a light, one of the last in this stretch, and I was in the left lane and she in the right, a car or two back. The light turned green and we pulled away.

Ms. “I’m in a Hurry” cut into the left lane (eliciting a horn blow from the driver she cut off) and after passing the cars on the right then dropped back into the right lane and started to pass me, again. We approached another intersection; the light was green. As we arrived at the intersection, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, driven by “Ms. I’m talking on my Cellphone” ran her red light, cutting directly in front of “Ms. I’m in a Hurry.” Ms Hurry slammed on her brakes and her horn. Actually, Ms. Hurry was OK, because while Ms. Cellphone was trying to turn right, into Ms. Hurry’s lane, since she had only one had on the wheel, she couldn’t cut the wheel enough and ended up in my lane. Now I was the one on the horn and brakes.

We all pulled up to the next traffic light together and stopped. I looked over at Ms. Cellphone. She had never stopped talking. Her distraction caused her to blow a red light, and her holding that phone in her right hand caused her to have such diminished control that she almost crashed into me. That made me mad. Really mad. I think Ms. Hurry was frightened by Ms. Cellphone because she stayed put in that right lane thereafter.

I can’t preach about cellphone use behind the wheel because I am guilty of it. It is wrong. It is always wrong, even with a hand’s free device. Had Ms. Cellphone had a hands free device, she still would have run the red light, only she would have negotiated her turn better and left me out of harm’s way. I’m a good driver with many skills at my disposal behind the wheel, but I know that I am diminished when on the phone. We have to find a way, everyone, to look at driving for what it is. It is not a void that needs to be filled with other activities. Driving is about driving. Leave the other junk aside, including your phones. As to Ms. Cellphone and Ms. Hurry—perhaps you would feel more at home if you confined your driving to Interstate 495. At least there, we’d be expecting you.

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