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15

Apparently, You’re Not Responsible for Driving Responsibly

Last week, my daughter’s 31 year old high school math teacher, Carolyn Girod, was struck and killed by a car while cycling in Washington.  At the time, Girod was riding with her boyfriend on what is reported to be a fairly rural and straight stretch of road.  According to the Washington State Patrol, the driver of the vehicle that caused the accident “was not paying attention and drifted onto the shoulder where the couple was biking.”  The car hit the boyfriend, pushing him into Girod and pushing her into the active roadway.  The boyfriend, who survived with minor injuries, was thrown into the embankment beside the road.

Needless to say, this is a tragedy and of a type that happens all too often.  Cyclists are hit by cars frequently in the US.  Many motorists refuse to recognize that in most states bicycles have the same rights on most roads that cars do.  While cyclists certainly aren’t faultless in some instances, it’s the casual (or inebriated) tossing around of two tons of vehicle that’s usually found to be at fault.

Furthermore, it seems like there is little other than lip service being paid to fixing the problem.  Signs posted here and there, rhetoric now and again (especially when an accident like this happens) and a new law passed, but not enforced, once in a while.  This case is a perfect example, as reported in the article about accident:

“. . . the State Patrol rarely arrests drivers who are merely “inattentive” in their driving, “even if they kill someone” through their inattention.”

What?  I’m not responsible for my lack of attention to my driving even if I kill someone?  As a licensed driver of a vehicle, am I not responsible for all my actions behind the wheel?  Isn’t attentiveness the responsibility of a driver?  Geez, I don’t get it.  As long as we don’t hold people responsible for their actions, we just condone their behavior.

The comments to the article even better represent the problem.  Some comments predictably and incorrectly blame the cyclists.  But more disturbingly, one woman sympathized with the driver saying something to the effect, “we all have fished around on the floor of our car searching for a flashlight or CD player.”  Really?  While moving?  Once again, we show how a driver’s license is a right instead of a privilege in the US.

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 July 15th, 2009  
 Will  
 Cycling  
   
 13 Comments

13 Responses to Apparently, You’re Not Responsible for Driving Responsibly

  1. Very sad.

    I drove in Europe for the first time over the last two weeks; I was in somewhat remote areas of Norway so I don’t know whether it’s representative of driving over there, but I can tell you this: you don’t need to make any rules about inattentiveness, because if you’re not attentive you’re quickly dead. The roads were BARELY wide enough for two sniveling euro-cars to pass each other, and winding/hilly, so when a tour bus approaches in the opposing direction you *better* be paying attention or you’ll get a foot or two of the left side of your car shredded. Did I mention that there is no line down the middle of the road?

    We’ve made it so easy to drive in the U.S., that people conclude it’s reasonable that you shouldn’t have to pay attention. A classic example of perverse second-order effects.

  2. Very sad.

    I drove in Europe for the first time over the last two weeks; I was in somewhat remote areas of Norway so I don’t know whether it’s representative of driving over there, but I can tell you this: you don’t need to make any rules about inattentiveness, because if you’re not attentive you’re quickly dead. The roads were BARELY wide enough for two sniveling euro-cars to pass each other, and winding/hilly, so when a tour bus approaches in the opposing direction you *better* be paying attention or you’ll get a foot or two of the left side of your car shredded. Did I mention that there is no line down the middle of the road?

    We’ve made it so easy to drive in the U.S., that people conclude it’s reasonable that you shouldn’t have to pay attention. A classic example of perverse second-order effects.

  3. A sad story Will. Unfortunately one of the minor reasons why I rarely ride anymore. When I lived in London (LONDON!) I felt safer than driving around the suburbs of Boston.

    There is an air of nonchalance when it comes to driving here. People just don’t care – the drivers, the police (they are just as bad), the government, the car manufacturers.

    You know things have gone the wrong way, when:
    1. It is ok to be distracted by talking or texting on a cell-phone. Any attempt at banning it in MA is laughable! You have got to be kidding me that only teens are deemed as being a driving risk while on a phone! EVERYONE should be banned. In the UK cell phone usage while driving was scientifically proven to be as dangerous as drink driving! So it was BANNED and now that law is saving lives. It isn’t about the one-handed operation – it is the distraction.

    2. Car manufacturers are not regulated into ensuring that their cars are not distracting. Honestly, when was it EVER safe to have a DVD player up front in the car? Or a bloody makeup mirror on the driver’s side? I remember when cars only had them on the passenger side – for SAFETY – ladies, do your makeup when you get there, not when you are riding my backside doing 70. Are so many cup holders a good idea?

    3. The driving test is an utter joke – you barely have to be awake to pass it. The skills needed and the general awareness of the majority of drivers in the US (sorry to say this) is so low that I fear for my life driving to work every day. Are people taught to use their mirrors here? In my opinion no, because I’ve been cut up more times in 6 months here than I ever was in 5 years of living and driving in central London. That is no exaggeration! If you aren’t looking in your mirror every few moments in your test in the UK, you FAIL.

    Not to say that others are bad in other parts of the world as there are certainly some morons everywhere and unfortunately everyone loses some of the edge that they are gain during tuition.

    Here I notice a marked detachment of the operator of a car and what their actions are on the road. It is shocking and irresponsible. Worst of all the police (local, state) rarely pay attention to dangerous or negligent driving.

    The wide roads should be no excuse.

    A large problem is that drivers just aren’t taught how to deal with cyclists properly – pay attention, look out for them at intersections, give them a car width of space. It just isn’t in the ‘highway code’ here like it is in the UK. It is drilled into you – you share the road with cars, trucks, CYCLISTS, MOTORCYCLISTS, PEDESTRIANS, HORSES… and you learn and relearn what you should and should not do.

    Furthermore drivers are completely unaware (and this goes for everwhere in the world) about what happens in accidents. People have got so used to buying cars with ‘added safety’ and ‘all wheel drive’ and ‘anti-lock brakes’ that they genuinely believe that they can now be less attentive behind the wheel – in a crash, the car will save them right? What about the people they plough into? Dead. What happens when you slam an Escalade into a Smart Car? Death. A smart car into a cyclist? Death. People just need to wake the f&*k up and realise that when they hit something, there is an effect on the other person too. No amount of trickery and technology is going to save the other people if they are not as protected as you are.

    Unfortunately to make any change the government is so big, so slow and so corrupt that any good intentions to face any problems (such as cell phones or DVD players to name just two causes) are met with stiff, stupid opposition who care more about votes than they do the safety of the public that they are serving.

    I doubt things will change no matter how many die. I feel for the family of Carolyn. I think I’ll stick to mountain biking only and take the risk with the trees.

  4. A sad story Will. Unfortunately one of the minor reasons why I rarely ride anymore. When I lived in London (LONDON!) I felt safer than driving around the suburbs of Boston.

    There is an air of nonchalance when it comes to driving here. People just don’t care – the drivers, the police (they are just as bad), the government, the car manufacturers.

    You know things have gone the wrong way, when:
    1. It is ok to be distracted by talking or texting on a cell-phone. Any attempt at banning it in MA is laughable! You have got to be kidding me that only teens are deemed as being a driving risk while on a phone! EVERYONE should be banned. In the UK cell phone usage while driving was scientifically proven to be as dangerous as drink driving! So it was BANNED and now that law is saving lives. It isn’t about the one-handed operation – it is the distraction.

    2. Car manufacturers are not regulated into ensuring that their cars are not distracting. Honestly, when was it EVER safe to have a DVD player up front in the car? Or a bloody makeup mirror on the driver’s side? I remember when cars only had them on the passenger side – for SAFETY – ladies, do your makeup when you get there, not when you are riding my backside doing 70. Are so many cup holders a good idea?

    3. The driving test is an utter joke – you barely have to be awake to pass it. The skills needed and the general awareness of the majority of drivers in the US (sorry to say this) is so low that I fear for my life driving to work every day. Are people taught to use their mirrors here? In my opinion no, because I’ve been cut up more times in 6 months here than I ever was in 5 years of living and driving in central London. That is no exaggeration! If you aren’t looking in your mirror every few moments in your test in the UK, you FAIL.

    Not to say that others are bad in other parts of the world as there are certainly some morons everywhere and unfortunately everyone loses some of the edge that they are gain during tuition.

    Here I notice a marked detachment of the operator of a car and what their actions are on the road. It is shocking and irresponsible. Worst of all the police (local, state) rarely pay attention to dangerous or negligent driving.

    The wide roads should be no excuse.

    A large problem is that drivers just aren’t taught how to deal with cyclists properly – pay attention, look out for them at intersections, give them a car width of space. It just isn’t in the ‘highway code’ here like it is in the UK. It is drilled into you – you share the road with cars, trucks, CYCLISTS, MOTORCYCLISTS, PEDESTRIANS, HORSES… and you learn and relearn what you should and should not do.

    Furthermore drivers are completely unaware (and this goes for everwhere in the world) about what happens in accidents. People have got so used to buying cars with ‘added safety’ and ‘all wheel drive’ and ‘anti-lock brakes’ that they genuinely believe that they can now be less attentive behind the wheel – in a crash, the car will save them right? What about the people they plough into? Dead. What happens when you slam an Escalade into a Smart Car? Death. A smart car into a cyclist? Death. People just need to wake the f&*k up and realise that when they hit something, there is an effect on the other person too. No amount of trickery and technology is going to save the other people if they are not as protected as you are.

    Unfortunately to make any change the government is so big, so slow and so corrupt that any good intentions to face any problems (such as cell phones or DVD players to name just two causes) are met with stiff, stupid opposition who care more about votes than they do the safety of the public that they are serving.

    I doubt things will change no matter how many die. I feel for the family of Carolyn. I think I’ll stick to mountain biking only and take the risk with the trees.

  5. Will, why would you expect a normal civilian to be able to drive responsibly when members of law enforcement can’t even do it? Last year March 08, a deputy in the San Jose, CA sheriffs dept, took out a pack of cyclists, they weren’t even on the same side of the road. http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2008/03/2-bicyclists-ki.html

    I know Seattle passed a fairly strict cell phone use while driving law and we have one here in CA, not that you could tell or anything.

    Hey, prehaps that super safe Mercedes you posted here not so long ago can be programmed to not hit people, what a concept.

    John

  6. Will, why would you expect a normal civilian to be able to drive responsibly when members of law enforcement can’t even do it? Last year March 08, a deputy in the San Jose, CA sheriffs dept, took out a pack of cyclists, they weren’t even on the same side of the road. http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2008/03/2-bicyclists-ki.html

    I know Seattle passed a fairly strict cell phone use while driving law and we have one here in CA, not that you could tell or anything.

    Hey, prehaps that super safe Mercedes you posted here not so long ago can be programmed to not hit people, what a concept.

    John

  7. My friend Dave just pointed out the following article from the NYT: Drivers and Legislators Dismiss Cellphone Risks (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/technology/19distracted.html?hp). Sort of an extension of the problems mentioned in other comments to this post. How cell phone use is known to be a driving problem and how little is being done about it.

  8. My friend Dave just pointed out the following article from the NYT: Drivers and Legislators Dismiss Cellphone Risks (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/technology/19distracted.html?hp). Sort of an extension of the problems mentioned in other comments to this post. How cell phone use is known to be a driving problem and how little is being done about it.

  9. Rob,

    Wow! I agree with everything you say. The lack of strictly enforced laws wrt to texting is patently absurd. Why there isn’t even a basic law requiring a headset to be used if on the phone is shocking. This is the basic stuff, of course, but as you say, is the telltale sign of why there will never be sweeping changes to driving law or education in the US.

    I don’t really hold car manufacturers responsible, though, they just do stuff people want and, to me, the problem shouldn’t be regulated there. It should be regulated at the consumer level. If people were punished in accordance with the crime, behavior, including buying behavior, would change overnight.

  10. Rob,

    Wow! I agree with everything you say. The lack of strictly enforced laws wrt to texting is patently absurd. Why there isn’t even a basic law requiring a headset to be used if on the phone is shocking. This is the basic stuff, of course, but as you say, is the telltale sign of why there will never be sweeping changes to driving law or education in the US.

    I don’t really hold car manufacturers responsible, though, they just do stuff people want and, to me, the problem shouldn’t be regulated there. It should be regulated at the consumer level. If people were punished in accordance with the crime, behavior, including buying behavior, would change overnight.

  11. John,

    I guess it’s no surprise that many cops driving skills are at the same level as everyone else. Since when is attention span even considered a required driving skill?

  12. John,

    I guess it’s no surprise that many cops driving skills are at the same level as everyone else. Since when is attention span even considered a required driving skill?

  13. Very bad happened with yours daughter teacher. It’s a really sad story. We Will definitely car drive safely. Thanks so much for this information.