Saturday, January 3, 2009

Urban Assault

Driving a motor vehicle is a responsibility. Unlike parenting, you must pass a test, and obtain a license to do so. This license can be revoked for grievous violations of the rules that we agree to play by when hitting the road in a motorized, and potential lethal, hunk of metal on wheels.

Some rules-of-the-road are not so clear cut. They are common to all facets of life. Things such as courtesy, safe behavior, concern for the safety of those around you, and general unselfishness are marvelous traits that make society a better place in which to live. Unfortunately, on the road, as well as in society in general, there are those who either choose not to abide, or who think, for some reason, that the rules of common courtesy and safety to them do not apply.

I speak specifically of the drivers of pick-up trucks and large sport utility vehicles. To get it out in the open right off the bat, I'm fairly sure I hate them all. Like smokers, they are selfish, inconsiderate and generally uncaring of the fact that there are others around them. There is a mindset amongst the crew-cabbers and SUVers that yes, they do indeed own the whole damn road. They are the fastest drivers, they make the most lane changes; they will tailgate or cut you off as suits their current desire to be fastest, first, biggest and most intimidating. They are the playground bullies of the freeway, and they are dangerous.

I have a sizable commute to work each day. Thanks to the completion of the 202 San Tan loop, my commute is slightly shorter time-wise, and certainly more convenient. As gas prices soared this past year, I observed an interesting trend: drivers were driving closer to the speed limit. The majority of drivers became educated on the idea that lower speeds equal better gas mileage. To keep with the pack, go with the flow of traffic, previously meant going at least 10 miles over the posted speed limit. Recently, I have observed that the pack is keeping closer to a conservative 6 miles over. It is now possible to actually DO the speed limit without being passed, tailgated, honked at and flipped off. This, to me, is an anthropological sign of cooperation within a species. Members of a societal unit doing what is best, not only for themselves, but the group as a whole.

This sort of sensibility and cooperation certainly does not apply to the tougher-than-tough, better-than-the-rest drivers of gas guzzling, high profile, tow a house, seat 25 SUVs and trucks. In an absolute nose-thumbing of common sense, these people, who burn the most fuel per trip, are still doing 80; 85 if they find an open stretch. And what of the rest of us, driving sensible compact and sub-compact economy cars? We are merely the orange cones of the big drivers' daily obstacle course. I am sure we provide great sport for them as they try to maintain a speed 10 mph faster than the pack without actually applying the brake. If this means crossing two lanes from the far right to pass one Accord in the middle lane, then zooming back across three lanes and onto the off ramp just to get there before the Camry who was daring to do the speed limit, they consider this their right by virtue of their selfish, self-centered size.

In early November of this year, I dropped my son off at school. As I had the day off from work, I was dropping him a bit later than usual, and being closer to the "bell", there were more parents dropping off more children at the same time. Into the back parking lot of the school, there are three lanes. One for entering, and two for leaving: a right turn lane and a left turn lane, both clearly marked by big white arrows on the pavement. After letting my son off at the curb, upon my approach of the exit, I found myself beside a very large truck. He was poised to turn left, and I to his right, awaited the opportunity to make a simple right turn into traffic. I was waiting because I could not see around this truck, who, of course, was inched out as far as he could go without actually entering and blocking oncoming traffic. I wasn't moving. I didn't sneak up on him mid-maneuver. His wait to turn left (and therefore mine to turn right, since he was blocking my view) looked to be a lengthy one, as at least 6 more parents were lined up in the middle turn lane in the road to enter the school parking lot. I certainly couldn't execute my simple right without a view of oncoming traffic, so there I sat.

Mr. Super-Duty Crew-Cab next to me apparently had a number of factors weighing upon him at the time. He must have been late, generally impatient or both. As the driver of the Superior Vehicle in this scenario, he, of course, should not have to be bothered by something as kindergarten as waiting one's turn. So, without regard or perhaps even awareness that he was indeed not the ONLY vehicle exiting the school parking lot, he decided to suddenly, without warning, convert his left-hand turn wait into a right-hand turn execution. If he had indeed been the only vehicle, or had there only been ONE lane exiting the school parking lot, this would have possibly gone off without a hitch, and he could have gunned it to reach 45 in the 35 zone before reaching the stop sign about an eighth of a mile down.

He was not, however (shock to him), the ONLY one using the parking lot, the exit, the roadways. I, as you will recall, was sitting to his right, in my '99 Sentra. My paid-for, sensible gas mileage, lower profile than the '08s and '09s, Nissan Sentra. I could not even see into the cab of the truck beside me, much less around him or over his hood. As he began his switcheroo to a right hand turn from the left turn lane, my first thought was "what are you do...", which was cut off by his seemingly deliberate impact with the front left corner of my vehicle. Since I saw it coming, I was braced, arms extended, hands on steering wheel, right foot jammed against the brake in anticipation of the jolt. I was stunned. I didn't honk; honking seemed unnecessary as certainly you KNOW when you've hit something, right?? My stun turned quickly to shock as, instead of getting out to see what he had hit, he accelerated again, further over the corner of my car. I was now too shocked to honk as the situation made absolutely no sense. My mind could not even formulate a guess as to why he would accelerate after hitting me. I didn't have long to ponder it, though, because he accelerated a SECOND time, dragging my vehicle a short distance, and eventually freeing himself of the baggage of my now damaged car. Then, to my further shock, he KEPT DRIVING! Now I honked, and it was only then that he realized he had hit a car.

Apparently, the only thing visible to him from his lofty perch at the parking lot exit, was the row of blue recycling bins lined up along the street to our right. He didn't see me, and therefore assumed the lane was clear, even though there were also parents behind me in the queue as well. He thought he hit a trash can, so he accelerated, TWICE, to be free of it, and then, without even looking back, started to drive away.

He pulled over after I honked, and a woman who had been behind me stopped, thankfully, to tell me that she had seen the whole thing and to give me her name and number. I was beyond shock and anger, and all I could do was look at him and say, "I guess you're going to be late!"

Two months and multiple chiropractic appointments later, I am still in pain. The jamming of my foot on the brake while being run over by a truck apparently aggravated the Sciatic nerve in my right leg. It wasn't immediately apparent, but by Thanksgiving, I couldn't walk. It hurt so bad I was very near tears. I had to have help getting out of the shower and into the car to go to my sister's house for family Thanksgiving. I think it took me 10 minutes to hobble, grimace and cringe my way from the car into her house on crutches. I spent the entire day in a desk chair on wheels. I spent the entire long holiday weekend inactive, with ice on my hip. It gets a little better, then it gets a little worse again. I was so tired of the pain and grumpy by Christmas, that I ended up in a depression with a crying jag on Christmas Day. From what I hear, this could be a permanent injury. I could deal with this pain for the rest of my life. All because some idiot in a truck couldn't wait his turn, or be aware of his surroundings.

It could have been worse though. What if, instead of me or a trash can, someone's child had been rounding that corner into the parking lot on a bike. He would not have seen a child on a bike any more than he saw an entire Nissan Sentra. He could have killed someone's child because he was a jerk in a hurry.

And so I say, to drivers of large gas-guzzling vehicles who drive like they are only ones out there, who the hell do you think you are? Just because your vehicle is bigger, does not mean that the responsibility to get out of your way lies with the smaller. You are the bullies of the roadways, the most selfish, inconsiderate drivers on the road. If you are offended by this, it is because (in words of Chuck Powell) you ARE that guy!! If you've only just begun driving such a vehicle, beware. BEWARE! The evil mentality that comes factory-installed in every full-sized truck and SUV may permeate your once-considerate mind and turn you into one of "them". Before you know it, you wouldn't stop if you hit a dog, much less a trashcan or another motorist!

The office manager at the body shop where my car was repaired drives a HUGE raised crew cab extended bed monster of a pickup truck. She said that once when her truck was having work done, the rental car company tried to put her in a sedan. She objected, and referred to it as a coffin on wheels. I let it slide but I was incensed. A sensibly-sized car wouldn't be a coffin on wheels were it not for the monster trucks like she drives, and the mentality of the drivers who operate them. Should we all go out and get bigger and bigger vehicles, until we're all driving monster trucks, Hummers and then finally Semi's?? One-up the next guy until we are all driving armored assault vehicles to work and to the market?

No, that would be ridiculous. Besides which, the problem lies not inherently with the vehicle, but the mentality and consideration for others of the driver. The Driver! If the drivers of large vehicles would just get over themselves and behave like members of a group, not singular beings, the size of the vehicle wouldn't matter. If they would drive defensively, rather than offensively, the roads would be safer for everyone.

And what of being the biggest, first in line, the meanest, the most feared? Take a look at the dinosaurs.

I'm just sayin'.