We Should All Be More Afraid of Driving
May 3, 2021 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Two terrifying car accidents taught me that, despite what we like to believe, we can’t control what happens on the road. Essay in The Atlantic by Joshua Sharpe. (Soft paywall, not sure what the article limit is before requiring a subscription.)

Images from "Car Crash Studies" (2009) by Danish photographer Nicolai Howalt (link to artist's website).
posted by the primroses were over (72 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: This thread is not improving. Please feel free to re-try a similar post along similar lines and we can have a do-over, but not this thread and not now. -- jessamyn

When I drive, I don't do anything but drive. There are days in this town where I might avert two accidents going someplace close by. This town is a smallish city, 389,000. Yet we have the second higest pedestrian Deaths in the USA. Peoe are distracted by all sorts of things, and the California driver's test is all like, "Have you ever touched a car key?" "If the answer is yes, you are good to go!"
posted by Oyéah at 3:10 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]

Please, joggers and walkers and cyclists, WEAR VISIBLE CLOTHES.

That's all I can say because now I need to go attend my own ptsd from a guy standing in a highway in the dark. Please, avoid this, or doing this to someone else, if you can.
posted by Dashy at 3:11 PM on May 3 [13 favorites]

This is a timely read for me. A coworker I like was recently involved in a collision with a cyclist who died as a result of his injuries. The cyclist is an absolute beloved legend in the local community, and as someone who commutes by bike it's a weird feeling to be both slightly predisposed to blame motorists and to know my coworker is a very diligent and careful person who is not the type to drive recklessly. She is totally traumatized even though she doesn't consider herself at fault. I kind of want to blame the designers of the intersection, and I kind of want to say something to my coworker about forgiving herself, but it's not really my place. I'm just hopeful she isn't traumatized for life by this.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:12 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]

It really is a matter of luck that these things don't happen to you. I've got two incidents in the last couple of weeks where I could have been the author.

Maybe 3 weeks ago I was driving home from work and when I was merging onto the highway I saw a guy walking on the side of the on-ramp fairly close to my lane. It's an elevated highway so I'm not sure why someone would be walking on that on-ramp. I could have easily hit them because it was dark and the area wasn't well lit.
Maybe their car broke down and they didn't have a cell phone? Or they were trying, unsuccessfully to hitchhike somewhere and gave up?

Last week when I was driving home from work, again at night on the highway, a car looked like it was going to move into my lane. I shifted over a bit to give space and crossed into the lane beside me. There wasn't a car in that lane so I was fine and the car didn't end up coming into my lane but I can't tell you if I actually knew there was no car in the lane I crossed into or if I just moved and hoped for the best. If I did cross over and hit another car it would have been my fault.

I'll be happy when my fasting is over and I can get back to riding my bike to work. Then I only have to worry about being crashed into.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:16 PM on May 3

Well the first time I witnessed a collision on the Interstate I realized that there is absolutely nothing you can do, once a car is bouncing off concrete barriers and spinning and so forth, if it happens to come at you. You'd maybe have time to start trying to cut the wheel or something but it is all happening so fast that your efforts would surely be futile.

I don't think I'd ever seen secondary impacts on TV. There, cars collide and come to rest at once, with the stock Foley car crash sound that sounds nothing like an actual car crash. Then they explode, or don't maybe. IRL, I saw a car drift out of its lane and sort of slowly cut across all the lanes. Everyone had time to stop, except for a semi, which t-boned the vehicle. Which was then anything but stationary.
posted by thelonius at 3:18 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Few comments removed - please mind the guidelines and please foster positive conversations
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:34 PM on May 3

Road users of all types need to get their own situational awareness in order before telling other road users how to make it easier for us.

That said, an individual road user's responsibility to do this increases with three factors: 1, size of the conveyance; 2, speed of the conveyance; 3, whether operating the conveyance required you to obtain a license and insurance.

Drivers need to remember that motorcyclists, cyclists, scooter-riders, skateboarders, and pedestrians didn't have to fulfill item 3. The greatest burden of anticipating hazards falls to drivers. When I am behind the wheel, I should assume non-car road users are out and about, and that they may not make predictable choices. (Hell, I assume the same about every other driver on the road.)

Everyone not on foot still has a responsibility to bear in mind items 1 and 2.

Runners need to remember item 2 when we close in on walkers, faster walkers on slower/burdened ones, and so on.

But drivers, more than anyone else, are supposed to expect the unexpected. Might that skateboarder weave in and out of those parked cars? Might that motorcyclist speed up to beat the light before I turn left? Might that guy balancing a 2-4 of cheap beer on his handlebars not actually know he's not supposed to ride against traffic? Might there be a pedestrian who will miss this train if she doesn't jaywalk here? That dog struggling against its leash looks bigger than the person walking it -- am I prepared to stop?
posted by armeowda at 3:37 PM on May 3 [17 favorites]

Everyone needs to be paying a lot more attention on the road. Echoing Oyeah, the only thing you should be doing while driving is driving. I hardly even listen to music when I drive these days. I avoid driving on the freeway or on roads with speeds over 35mph as often as possible. I avoid stretches of road where people are known to speed even moreso.

It aligns with research I've seen that says the only safe bike lane is one with a physical separator between the automobiles and the bicycles, because a line just isn't enough to keep disasters from being a common thing. Doesn't matter what anyone is wearing, the real issue is that motor vehicles are two ton death machines that people drive around like weapons. Especially people with road rage.

God, I hate driving. What I wouldn't give for high speed rail and better local bus routes and bike routes. Bus routes already weren't great but COVID killed all the service and it's never really come back to full service levels.
posted by deadaluspark at 3:47 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

I spent a year as auto/personal lines insurance analyst for a minor company in the Ontario market and started every day by emailing out a summary of the large claims from the previous day. Every day the email started with listing the accidents resulting in quadriplegia and paraplegia and finished with the smaller claims for death and there was not a single day where there were no major claims. I've driven just once in about 30 years since that job. The stats are pretty brutal. At the time I decided to stop driving you had, as a driver, a 1 in 3000 chance of being in an accident that resulted in someone being hospitalized.....each year. I decided I couldn't live with myself if I ever did that to someone and I want to live with myself so I gave up driving.
posted by srboisvert at 3:48 PM on May 3 [11 favorites]

I just don’t know how we get people to truly internalize how dangerous driving is.

I was a passenger in a fatal car accident just months before I turned sixteen and learned to drive. I was anxious at first, but ultimately drove just as recklessly as just about any teenager. I am genuinely fortunate my driving did not get me killed. Even knowing how dangerous it was, even watching as the driver in my accident died, it just didn’t stick. What better lesson on the risks of driving is there than being in a fatal accident? But it didn’t stick...
posted by obfuscation at 3:49 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

Cars are the #1 killer of Americans between the ages of 5 and 30. I didn’t know this before I worked for a transportation advocacy place and basically nobody else knows it either. Once I found out I couldn’t shut up about it. The number one killer of children and we just accept it as a fact of life we supposedly can’t do anything about.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:54 PM on May 3 [10 favorites]

We're currently teaching our sixteen year old to drive. Instructing your child from the passenger seat is one hell of a reminder of how dangerous driving is, and I'm constantly thinking about how completely random shit could turn things into a very bad day. We don't expect he's going to do a lot of solo driving anytime soon after he gets his license, and I'm frankly happy about that.
posted by mollweide at 3:56 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

Please, joggers and walkers and cyclists, WEAR VISIBLE CLOTHES.

Cyclist here. Not only is this victim blaming, but it doesn’t actually work. No amount of high-viz clothing will save you from a distracted driver.
posted by mhoye at 3:59 PM on May 3 [37 favorites]

Not driving as much during the pandemic as well as having moved from a big city / frequent freeway driving required home, to a smaller location where I can avoid major roads mostly for small trips, I've become a *lot* more conscious about traffic and hazards around me. Driving daily for a few hours up and down the 880 or 280 in the Bay Area, sitting on *cough* speeds consistent with the traffic flow around me *cough* it was easy to think the biggest problem was traffic snarls and needing to go as fast as possible to get where I needed to be - on or off the freeway. And even though I saw accidents daily, I became desensitized to the point that accidents fell either in the "oh crap, this is going to make me late" or "woah, glad I choose this lane or time and avoided that mess" camps. I had to drive down to Salt Lake City over the weekend - and wow do I now hate city driving and people not indicating when try to cross three lanes in one quick go, etc.

Also I hit a deer about 2 weeks after I moved here. It jumped out right in front of me at night, I slammed my brakes on and it just lightly glanced my driver side headlight - not enough to break anything or seemingly cause the deer an issue. Completely random - literally no way I could have seen it happening or done anything as it jumped from bushes above the roadway at night - and I was driving the speed limit. I'm almost ashamed to say it - but the thought of having to tell my kids I killed Grey Legs or one of the other local deer and moose they have now named has been one of the best reinforcements to me to continue to slow the fuck down and pay more attention.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 4:06 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]

True mhoye. BUT...

People walking/biking at night in all black seems like an inherently bad idea. Have had many instances where I just don't see someone until I'm like "holy fuck"!

There ARE cars out there.
posted by Windopaene at 4:06 PM on May 3 [13 favorites]

It's not victim blaming to live on a winding rural road without sidewalks and have people walking the road at night in dark clothing such that I could easily hit them before ever being aware they were there. It's happened more than once.
posted by kokaku at 4:17 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]

The barrier to driving is just so low. I'm not talking about licensing - although having gotten other licenses for other things, on reflection my driving license was by far the easiest. It takes nothing for someone to just get in a 2000+lb device and make calculable physics problems of mass and speed versus the squishy and breakable human body.

Right now I'm getting 'victim updates' from the state periodically on the drunk driver who had her third DUI when she rear-ended and destroyed a car I was a passenger in - license long suspended, but the car doesn't check for your license when you get in. It doesn't know your mental status - interlock switches can, I suppose, control for alcohol, but not for other drugs, not for sleep deprivation, not for poor attention, not for medical disasters that happen to the driver.

Removing autos from the equation, however, is much like changing an entire economy - I'm not sure it's possible without a vast socio-cultural restructuring. We can try technological fixes, but as someone who once thought that would work, I'm not sure that's an option without other vast changes - how does someone driving a 1998 beater remain as safe as a 2021 tech-heavy bubble? They can't.
posted by cobaltnine at 4:19 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]

High viz does help, especially in darkness-- it's a big enough deal that there are programs here in Alaska that give out free reflective tape and such to walkers and bikers.

Also drivers need to hang up and drive already AND anticipate walkers and bikers. There are a lot of distracted drivers out there, and a sprinkling of assholes. Many things are true.
posted by blnkfrnk at 4:24 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]

Every conversation about driving on MeFi is a conversation about what other people could be doing better. We can all do better. Every one of us.
posted by klanawa at 4:25 PM on May 3 [9 favorites]

Right now I'm getting 'victim updates' from the state periodically on the drunk driver who had her third DUI when she rear-ended and destroyed a car I was a passenger in

There's a population of repeat DUI offenders who aren't deterred by anything. No license? No problem. Jail time? Enforced break, but you can drive drunk again when you get out. Impound their car? They just get another one.
posted by thelonius at 4:29 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

I, motorcyclist, am campaigning for kangaroos to wear high-vis vests. Stupid hoppy bastards just slap out into the lane at dusk and you wind up sliding to a halt, just to watch Skippy scratch his sack and hop away. I mean it's not their fault they're grey or brown, and as dumb as spanners, but thinking on a risk and infrastructure basis it's a good use of public money to have a rural roads vest program. After that comes the Spray Paint All The Wombats International Orange; a big wombat will write off a truck.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:31 PM on May 3 [12 favorites]

I guess I just don’t understand. You wouldn’t drive at night without your headlights on, and any driver who would is clearly negligent. Why wouldn’t you want to dress visibly if you’re on the side of the road at night?
posted by hwyengr at 4:32 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]

This reminds me of when I was arguing with my brother that COVID restrictions are appropriate and he was like "Well people die in car crashes all the time but nobody worries about that" and I was like WHO doesn't worry about that?! Not having to drive 100+ miles a day anymore has been a blessing.

I got into a pretty minor accident in 2013 which totaled my car, and after that I didn't feel like driving which was fine because I got no insurance payout & my job didn't pay me enough to buy even a used car. Without a car my commute ballooned from an hour each way to 2 or 3 hours each way, including multiple busses & trains, Lyfts to & from the train stations. The next 2 jobs I got after that were the same. It's HARD to not drive.

James had seen the car veering toward me, and thought I should’ve let it hit me instead of swerving into oncoming traffic.

I reminded him that I’d had less than a second to decide what to do.

Yep, he got it, he said. He’d made mistakes too. Just make better decisions in the future.

God, this country is just so brutal, how it pits us against each other. No creature on earth is capable of the kind of anti-life-preserving decision the author was expected to provide here. But did James care about that? Did he even think about it? And the other guy Ricardo? Who was angry because he was stuck with medical bills? But he's mad at the author instead of this fucked up situation we're all equally trapped inside?

I have so many thoughts about this I can't even capture.
posted by bleep at 4:33 PM on May 3 [12 favorites]

I guess I just don’t understand. You wouldn’t drive at night without your headlights on, and any driver who would is clearly negligent. Why wouldn’t you want to dress visibly if you’re on the side of the road at night?

Do you think that's how most people who are hit by cars die - just dressing all in black and leaping out in front of innocent drivers in the night?
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:34 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]

Of course not. But why the resentment against risk reduction?
posted by hwyengr at 4:36 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]

If you are driving, you have for some reason been judged worthy of being in charge of a machine that can kill people. It's your job as the person who is in charge of it to be aware, and push for better walking and biking paths if you are frequently having hair raising encounters with cyclists and pedestrians.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:38 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]

Because of all the people I've met who have had loved ones killed by drivers - and there have been many - they were just on the fucking sidewalk, in the middle of the day. Or in the crosswalk with the light, or on a bike following the rules of the road. Or in a stroller. And then someone was careless with a few thousand pounds of flying metal and crushed them to death.

And when I hear people say it's the responsibility of fragile human bodies to protect themselves from these massive speeding hunks of death, what I hear you saying is "they probably could have avoided it, ergo it's their fault, not the driver's. They deserved what they got. And if I ever take a life with a car, you can damn well bet I won't consider it my fault."
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:41 PM on May 3 [14 favorites]

Look, I drive a car and walk on the sidewalk. When I'm walking 2-3 block around my house to the park or the store I shouldn't be expected to think about risk reduction. Same as I shouldn't have to work about being shot every time I go to the grocery store, but here we are.
posted by kittensofthenight at 4:41 PM on May 3 [11 favorites]

Hey, do you know they make black cars that are really hard to see when they pull out in front of you? BMW, Honda, Toyota, Ford, Tesla, you name it. Why don't they implement risk-reduction and make their cars high-vis?

Go yell at those motherfuckers for making hard-to-see machines and lobbying their asses off for unrestricted use of them.
posted by introp at 4:42 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]

Why don't they implement risk-reduction and make their cars high-vis?

They did. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108. Side marker lamps.
posted by hwyengr at 4:44 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]

Yeah I'm pretty sure this is a huge & tragic issue & reducing it to shirt color is insulting in its reduction.
posted by bleep at 4:45 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]

I've had a lot of job interviews where the interviewer struggles to understand how I get to work on time-- surely I can't be reliable because I'm not in control of my commute? When in reality, none of us are fully in control-- drivers deal with traffic and breakdowns and crashes and weather just like the rest of us, but they're piloting a vehicle that insulates them from feeling effort or weather or other people to the full extent they exist. All anyone chooses is when they leave and their own conduct.

We had an article here about maritime law that I really liked that explained how power boats vs rowboats vs big ships vs kayakers have different responsibilities and how they need to act to get along safely and I wish we'd bring that idea to driving laws and road use.

ETA robots? No, rowboats.
posted by blnkfrnk at 4:45 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]

They did. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108. Side marker lamps.
If you think you can see a side-marker lamp in broad daylight here, I have a bridge to sell you. They work great at night, though, just like my bike's side-markers do!
posted by introp at 4:46 PM on May 3

Mod note: folks. peds vs. bikes vs. cars discussions frequently go poorly here. Please try to bring more to the table than your own reflexive distaste? Links, facts, anything?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:47 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]

Charges of victim blaming need to be critically thought though. It's entirely possible to be the victim of an automobile collision and be completely at fault at the same time. Don't take it personally.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:47 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

I bike year round and drive a few times a year. I find it very helpful, as a driver, when cyclists have lights and something light-colored at night - your shirt, your backpack, anything pale will light up in the headlights. Advantages: I'm not going to be startled when you suddenly loom out of the dark, so I won't make a startle mistake; if we're on a crowded road I know that there is someone in the lane and can pass you safely; if you're turning or crossing the street at the corner instead of biking in the street, I see you clearly as I come up beside/behind you.

I am a cyclist first and I try to be a very, very careful driver. I've had a couple of not-quite-near-but-not-as-far-as-I'd-like misses when someone in dark clothes with no lights was biking on the sidewalk and crossed ahead of me as I was making a right turn. I'm a slow, careful turner and I could stop, but it was scary and I would have seen them much sooner if they'd had lights or light-colored clothes.

If you only bike and never drive, please know that it's amazing and scary how invisible a cyclist with no lights in dark clothes can be. You don't feel nearly as invisible as you are. Honestly, wearing a light-colored backpack or a backpack with a large reflective patch would be an incredibly low-effort way to boost visibility.
posted by Frowner at 4:48 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]

Any interaction between a pedestrian or cyclist and a vehicle is going to hurt the human a fuck of a lot more than the vehicle. Some people say "that means the person outside the car should take extra special care to protect themselves," and some say "that means the person in charge of the vehicle should take extra special care not to kill another human being." I mean, both of these can be true at once, but I personally believe that the greater responsibility lies with the person in charge of the deadly weapon.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:52 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]

Cyclist here. Not only is this victim blaming, but it doesn’t actually work. No amount of high-viz clothing will save you from a distracted driver.

It's not victim blaming to say that high vis wear decreases accidents.

The study: The effect of a yellow bicycle jacket on cyclist accidents

• A randomised controlled trial with 6793 cyclists shows a reduced accident risk due to a yellow bicycle jacket.

• The test group had 47% fewer multiparty accidents with personal injury.

• The test group had 55% fewer multiparty accidents against motorised vehicles.
posted by tclark at 4:55 PM on May 3 [8 favorites]

I need to apologize if my earlier comment seemed like a victim blaming derail. I am a longtime cyclist. I wrote what I did because the ptsd from the article identified with me so strongly. My incident came from a person in the highway. I only later realized how bad the ptsd was when I found myself screaming at a runner (black tights, black fleece, black skullcap) who I came close to hitting even as I was barely crawling
on a dark rainy night in crowded parked-up Cambridge streets. What I meant to write was about the ptsd and how we all should try to avoid it and avoid impinging it on reach other but I really can't. Write, that is, when my brain turns into a cyclone from thinking about the body in the windshield and all the blood. Sorry, carry on.
posted by Dashy at 4:57 PM on May 3 [10 favorites]

The pandemic has led to me having to commute by car an hour a day. Which is normal for a lot of people, but I have never commuted by car before and really only drove on neighborhood streets once a week or so before the pandemic. It is anxiety inducing and has taken a quantifiable toll on my happiness and mental health. For me its been the worst part of the pandemic, driving across the entire city of Seattle twice a day during rush hour. Most days there's a accident on my way to work and an accident on my way home. I've been in a fair share of minor car accidents as a driver and passenger and nothing like what the author experienced, but the article still resonated with me.
posted by kittensofthenight at 4:58 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

It took me about 16 years (off and on, very off and on) to get my driver's license, specifically because I was afraid of killing people if I screwed up.

However, my life was really, really limited as a non-driver. I would not be in the career I am in had I not had to choose it based on "where I can get to without a driver's license." The options were limited. Where I could live was limited. Public transport is only so reliable, trustworthy, or just plain existent and you can't really depend on it in most locations. You need to drive. (And frankly, during a pandemic I'm really grateful that I didn't have to depend on taking the bus all the time like a non-driver friend of mine was having to do.) And even if you don't drive yourself, you probably have to depend on your friends and family giving you rides, the bus driver driving the car, the train conductor driving the car, etc.

It's a devil's bargain, but you gotta make it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:59 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]

I don't drive. And that is a conscious choice I made 40 odd years ago. Being in charge of something that can cause so much mayhem in such a short period of time just seemed like a massive responsibility which with a bit of planning I could avoid

I don't shoot. And that is a conscious choice ...
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 5:01 PM on May 3

My favourite four letter word - "Taxi"
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 5:02 PM on May 3

W/r/t the mitigation of risk, it's worth remembering the Hierarchy of Controls (which is a standard in world-wide use for risk managers and engineers and the like). The basic idea is that different kinds of risk management have effects of different orders; a line process that protects workers with an engineered safety guard, or by eliminating a dangerous chemical, is a preferred to an administrative approach ('be careful!') or issuing gloves and goggles (PPE). For road engineers that usually means segregating forms of traffic, (i.e. eliminating pedestrians from multi-lane intercity highways) and creating restrictive environments for road-sharing (i.e. speed bumps, low speed limits, and the like, around residential areas).

It's just that in the design process, the pressure to deliver high-speed private transport from any given point to any other usually outranks the safety engineer's recommendations. And that's before we get to old mate the wandering wombat (who should be painted international safety orange)
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:03 PM on May 3 [8 favorites]

jessamyn: folks. peds vs. bikes vs. cars discussions frequently go poorly here. Please try to bring more to the table than your own reflexive distaste? Links, facts, anything?

They go poorly everywhere, if it makes anyone feel any better.
posted by clawsoon at 5:03 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]

For me, it comes down to agency: drivers have the most control over the situation, a legal system and urban planning which heavily privileges their use of public space, and the most protection from the consequences of bad decisions. Despite that, every year tens of thousands of Americans are killed and far more are seriously injured and in a majority of those cases the cause was someone’s decision not to drive safely. Drivers should get most of the attention because they do most of the killing — Facebook can wait and nobody’s life is worth getting to the next red light 3 seconds faster!

There is a vicious feedback loop here, too: you could easily and sharply reduce the number of deaths by fixing road designs, reducing speed with governors or camera enforcement, and banning the sale of vehicles whose design makes them substantially more lethal to the people they hit. Every one of those measures will get bitter opposition beyond even what we saw with anti-smoking campaigns — in most places it’s hard to even get someone’s license revoked after they kill someone.
posted by adamsc at 5:04 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]

I am a longtime cyclist.

I am too. Before I broke my knee I logged 3k commuting miles per year (and I took transit during the winters). But I'm also in the construction industry and don't step onto a job site without a hard hat and reflective vest. So my bike has a 1-watt blinking headlight and I wear a reflective jacket when riding at night.

I once had a driver tell me my light lit up the road better than his.
posted by hwyengr at 5:06 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]

The necessity of hi-viz clothing is foremost a failure of infrastructure, and I wish we could stop making it about personal responsibility like we do with everything else in this hell country that is actually a consequence of our collective failure to design systems humanely. If it's possible for a person wearing dark clothing to suddenly loom out of the dark, the area is not well lit enough. If it's not possible to light the area well enough, cars shouldn't be allowed there. Or the speed limit should be sharply reduced and enforced, preferably through infrastructure such as speed bumps rather than relying on police. Or there should be motion detectors at intersections that light up when people walk toward them. Part of the thrust of the article is that we're not in control of what happens on the road, but we could control a lot more than we currently do.
posted by valrus at 5:07 PM on May 3 [13 favorites]

I drive some, but I commute daily by bike and cycle for fun.
The amount of unsafe, selfish and clueless driving I see from my bike and my car has convinced me people do not understand physics, mass and velocity, stopping distance or reaction time.
I kind of blame movies that that too often show aggressive, dangerous and bad driving as a cool thing.
Every intersection in my community has sid-show skid marks. I am not exaggerating when I say the last five times I've left the house I've seen at least one red light runner.
I get more and more careful every outing, but I still read about innocent drivers and cyclists killed careless drivers.
I'm calling for a ban on cars until drivers can prove they are mature enough to pilot these dangerous multi-ton killers.
posted by cccorlew at 5:10 PM on May 3

hwyengr: I once had a driver tell me my light lit up the road better than his.

Are you the one who keeps temporarily blinding me when I'm coming from the other direction on the bike path, lol?

(Hopefully your light is directional and you're pointing it mostly at the path, in the same way that car headlights are supposed to be adjusted so that they don't blind other drivers.)
posted by clawsoon at 5:10 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

The reason why we can't get passed "They deserved to die" in this thread is probably why we can't get past it anywhere, which we also saw in the essay (with James et al) which is that people truly believe that everyone else is constantly making bad decisions & therefore they deserve to be punished. It really is so wrong.
posted by bleep at 5:10 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

I think back to my first defensive driving course when the instructor said “what if I told you that car accidents are rare?”. He acknowledged how crazy that sounded and asked the students to raise their hands if they saw what they would describe as a car accident in the past month, with more than half the class raising their hands. He went on to say that the phrase “car accident” implies that it was some kind of unavoidable thing that was nobody’s fault when an overwhelming majority of crashes are attributable to speeding, driver error, distraction, impairment, etc. He drove home the point that students sitting in his class had better get that phrase “car accident” out of their heads as many crashes are anything but accidents.

That was nearly 20 years ago but the example still sticks.
posted by dr_dank at 5:13 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

When saying that pedestrians, cyclists, etc., need to "Please [...] WEAR VISIBLE CLOTHES" for an article about the oft-unrecognized dangers of driving, the question is "who are you covering for?"

Because, irresponsibly extrapolating from my personal experience of having three friends* killed by drivers, that line gets vocally shouted as a defense for 100% of the about 7000 deaths of pedestrians and cyclists we see every year in the US. So, yeah, when that battle cry goes up, even though there's a solid nugget of truth in it, you're providing cover for the people who don't give a shit if some pedestrians and cyclists die.

Drivers have essentially all the control here. Want to make the road safer for pedestrians and cyclists? Slow down by 10 mph / 15 kph. For all but the lowest-speed and highest-speed roads, that'll net you a whopping 2x improvement in pedestrian fatality risk! (I don't have the data on cyclist fatality risk.) I can wear a super-bright reflective safety vest and improve my nighttime recognition distance by about 50%. That's good and important! But reminding pedestrians and cyclists that they should do this, in this context, really really distracts from the article's points about the realities of driving a car and covers for the folks who want that to happen.
posted by introp at 5:18 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]

On those occasions when I'm driving, I very very much do not want to hit anyone. Believe me, I'm doing my absolute level best. I do not, frankly, expect that my neighborhood will be better lighted or less biked - we can't get the street repaired and all our public trash cans have been removed, so I cannot imagine we'll get any more street lights and this is a densely populated, lots-of-kids neighborhood where many, many people bike to get around because it's the cheapest option. For these reasons, I am basically asking people to help me. I do my best when I have to drive at night but I'm not magic.

If someone is biking on the sidewalk, doesn't pause at the corner and rockets out into the street as I'm making a right turn - something that happens and that I've even done myself without thinking - I can try to stop fast enough and I expect that as a careful driver I'll almost always be able to. But if people can help by wearing light colors or carrying a light backpack, then I'll see them as they approach the corner and won't even start making the turn. Ditto for passing people safely in the street - I want to pass people in plenty of time with plenty of space, and a light or a reflective patch means that I will see them even if there's a lot of traffic and a lot of headlights shining in my face.

Let's assume that somehow my neighborhood organizes and, in this city where we can't even get the police under control, we successfully campaign for more streetlights and less streets. We're still looking at years before this campaign could get organized and win and get the actual lights put up. Lights and light colored clothing are something that we actually can do without several years of meetings, a budget hearing, a bidding process and a couple of years of construction.
posted by Frowner at 5:22 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]

Cyclist here. Not only is this victim blaming, but it doesn’t actually work. No amount of high-viz clothing will save you from a distracted driver.

Yes, this is victim blaming, but "doesn't work"?

Come on.

They help. A distracted driver might notice an orange t-shirt when they wouldn't notice a black one. They might notice a blinking red light that you attached to your belt. Sure, they might not notice you even with all that, but they might.

These things help.

That doesn't mean that the burden is all on the runner/bike-rider, but as someone who has logged a lot of miles in the dark, I do my part to be a giant, glowing beacon of annoyingness.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:25 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

I suspect that the underlying issue is that only about 1% of us will die in a car accident (as a driver, passenger, cyclist, or pedestrian), so we collectively decide that the advantages of cars are worth the number of deaths they cause. (At the same time, it means that virtually all of us know someone who has died in a car accident.)

I don't think that's great reasoning, but I think it's basically the reason. Cars kill a few less people every year than the flu, and y'all know how seriously most of us (don't) take flu season.

I say this as someone who commutes by bicycle and whose sibling was killed by a car while riding a bike.
posted by clawsoon at 5:26 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]

Does anyone remember: Affluenza?

I think the high-vis idea is great... everyone EXCEPT for drivers (human beings operating heavy machinery) should ALWAYS wear high-vis clothing all the time. Pedestrians, high-vis. Cyclists, high-vis, Children, high-vis.

It's not victim blaming to say that high vis wear decreases accidents.

The study: The effect of a yellow bicycle jacket on cyclist accidents

• A randomised controlled trial with 6793 cyclists shows a reduced accident risk due to a yellow bicycle jacket.

• The test group had 47% fewer multiparty accidents with personal injury.

• The test group had 55% fewer multiparty accidents against motorised vehicles.
posted by tclark at 4:55 PM on May 3

As you can see, if we all want to have a higher rate of survival in this world owned by drivers, we should all wear more high-vis. Shoes, pants, shirts, hats, jackets. Do. It. All.

Go to a restaurant, a party in your backyard, baby shower. High-vis is life.

posted by honor the agreement at 5:27 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

There is not a walker, jogger, or cyclist who hasn't had at least one incident where a vehicle purposely changes lanes in order to drive straight towards them. It's happened to me so many times, I've lost count, and I don't even walk that much. I guess they feel their Fog Horn loud mufflers give them permission to deliberately terrorize anyone unfortunate to be outside a vehicle when they come roaring by.
posted by Beholder at 5:29 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]

As you can see, if we all want to have a higher rate of survival in this world owned by drivers, we should all wear more high-vis. Shoes, pants, shirts, hats, jackets. Do. It. All.

I don't see anyone advocating that here.
posted by tclark at 5:31 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

It should be the responsibility of anyone who is willing to sit in the driver's seat to take some time and think long and hard about whether they're willing to deal with the emotional consequences of hitting someone and possibly killing them.
posted by aniola at 5:31 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]

Go to a restaurant, a party in your backyard, baby shower. High-vis is life.

High viz, no, but I do wear a mask to events like that even though I’m vaccinated. Risk management saves lives. Hands down.
posted by hwyengr at 5:36 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

This was a really disappointing conversation. The whole point of the essay was to explore the ways that we think we have control over things which is actually a shared delusion. So the conversation is a lot of people trying to forcefully proclaim that yes actually we all have control over everything. It's not true, folks.
posted by bleep at 5:38 PM on May 3 [9 favorites]

Mod note: Please do not edit your comments substantively after posting. Please think about what sort of community conversation you want to have here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:40 PM on May 3

hwyengr, that's great, because wearing masks is about protecting other people, and vaccines are still only officially (last I heard) for protecting oneself.
posted by aniola at 5:41 PM on May 3

Incredible and depressing how quickly this conversation turned to blaming cyclists and pedestrians for not wearing reflective clothing. As with like, everything, in our society, those who are most at risk of being killed by a car are poor and marginalized. They walk and cycle not for enjoyment or exercise (which is what well-off people think of first when they think of these activities) they do it as their primary mode of transportation. You’re basically asking them to wear high viz anytime they are out of the house. And of course no one is killed by people walking and people being killed by cyclists is extremely rare and yet we somehow think they share as much responsibility for road safety as people in (not being hyperbolic here) murder machines.
posted by scantee at 5:42 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]

(It's not clear to me how the vaccine conversation maps onto the conversation about how we use public spaces [roads], though.)
posted by aniola at 5:43 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

From a certain perspective, cars are kind of absurd.

I mean, in most manufacturing settings ideally when workers operate machines that are complex and heavy, they're working in a team or being supervised. They also take frequent breaks, because human concentration is finite and they know it's best not to operate something when they're tired, hungry, mad, or even just bored.

But here we are as a whole society, or even a whole planet and we just let people drive this big machine that can get up to 120 mph. At all hours of the day and night. With a ton of other people doing the same thing at the same time in the same place. And more often that not with no other person sitting next to them while they're doing it that would be able to say, "Hey, go get some coffee, I'll take over a few minutes."
posted by FJT at 5:46 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]

(It's not clear to me how the vaccine conversation maps onto the conversation about how we use public spaces [roads], though.)

Maybe... hmm... you never know who your careless use of a public space (roads or air) is going to kill?
posted by clawsoon at 5:53 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

Well, I just wanted to say that I've been feeling bad about walking around after dark in dark clothing in my neighborhood and this thread was the push I needed to spend ten bucks on one of those clip on reflective vest thingies. So, I guess the victim blaming worked on me. Thanks.
posted by potrzebie at 5:54 PM on May 3

Please be kind. I just wanted to be clear that I hadn't studied it to figure out all the implications of how it mapped onto this discussion and that I wasn't making any metaphors.
posted by aniola at 5:56 PM on May 3

I wasn't intending to be mean, aniola, so I hope it didn't come across that way. More, "hmm, let's play with this analogy a little bit, see where it goes..."
posted by clawsoon at 6:00 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

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