Driving as if people mattered

by Rich Heffern

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I remarked to a colleague this winter after a snowstorm that this city where we live is a fantastic one to live in -- if you're an auto. The parking lots were all meticulously cleared of snow just a few hours after the last flake descended while the sidewalks were still obliterated. Someone remarked that aliens from outer space, observing the planet from a distance, would conclude the dominant life form is metal with round rubber rolling devices for locomotion.

Those of us who drive should probably spend an hour or two walking around our own neighborhood and workplace to get an awareness of what it's like to be on foot. There are always more than a few places where it is impossible for pedestrians to cross, and other places where people hover in the middle of a busy road waiting for a gap in traffic to dash through.

There are a number of things drivers can do to make the roads safer and pleasanter.

-- Slow down. Speed kills. At 15 mph there is only a three percent chance of death for a pedestrian hit by a car, while at 40 mph the risk rises to 90 percent.

-- Don't let common courtesies disappear when you get behind the wheel. Let people cross the street, slow down when there are children around. and don't rev your engine to hurry pedestrians at a crossing. Stop when the light turns yellow instead of streaking through, especially when there is someone waiting to cross. A calmer driving style will be good for your blood pressure, and bank balance. Mindful driving is the key.

-- Learn to drive well. This means not only handling the car well, but also paying attention to what's going on around you and staying alert. Needless to say, avoid talking on the cell phone while driving.

-- Don't get angry at pedestrians and cyclists just for being there. Watch out when you open a car door or back up.

-- Don't be bullied by other drivers into driving too fast or dangerously.

-- Slow down to 20 mph in residential districts, including your own.

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