Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A View Of An Accident Going Somewhere To Happen

One of the last things my mom will say to me when I talk to her or drop her off at work is, "Be careful driving. There are some crazy people out there." I usually respond that I will in a tone that says not to worry. It takes me back to being walked to the school bus stop or being scolded for crossing the street without looking both ways as a kid. A few items - some serious, others in jest - let me know that I shouldn't brush off her worries as mere maternal fretting.

The first one was on the CNN website. A survey conducted by Response Insurance showed that 57% of all U.S. drivers fail to use their turn signal when they are driving for reasons as "being too lazy" to turn on their signal (because we all know how much energy the turn signal exerts compared to, say, dialing a cell phone while steering with a thigh) or "adding excitement" to their daily commute (as opposed to, say, watching a DVD, shaving, or putting on make-up while behind the wheel - I've seen these things happen). Women were less likely to neglect using their signal as compared to men - 53% compared to 62% - and younger drivers were less likely to signal as compared to older drivers. That's a lot of people seeking "excitement."

Here in Detroit, we often joke about the way people drive. This second item, which does have a little bit of truth about driving habits in the city, floated into my e-mail just before the Super Bowl. I also think it was published in one of the local papers. I'm sure you'll see a bit of your city in this, too.

Driving Rules for Out-Of-Towners During the Super Bowl

1. First, you must learn to pronounce the city name. It's Deh-troit, NOT DEE-troit. If you pronounce it DEE-Troit, then we will assume you are from "out of town" and are here for the Country Music Hoedown.
2. Forget the traffic rules you learned elsewhere. Detroit has its own version of traffic rules... Hurry up and get in front of the guy ahead of you, no matter how fast he is driving. Let no man pass!
3. The morning rush hour is from 6:00 am to 10:00 am. The evening rush hour is from 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Friday's rush hour starts Thursday morning. Weekends are open game.
4. If you actually stop at a yellow light, you will be rear-ended, cussed out and possibly shot. If you're first off the starting line when the light turns green, count to five before going across the intersection. This will avoid getting in the way of cross-traffic who just ran their yellow light to keep from getting shot.
5. Schoenherr (Shane-her) can ONLY be properly pronounced by a native of the Detroit metro area. That goes for Gratiot (Gra-shut) too.
6. Construction and renovation on I-94, I-96, I-75, I-275, I-375, The Lodge and The Southfield Freeways are a way of life and forever. Just deal with it.
7. If someone actually has their turn signal on, it is probably a factory defect or they are distracted by talking on their cell phone. Detroiters don't normally use them. We're known for cutting people off.
8. All old men (or women) with white hair wearing a hat have total right-of-way.
9 The minimum acceptable speed on I-696 and I-275 is 85 regardless of the posted speeds. Anything less is considered downright SISSY. Oh, and don't even think of allowing more than one car length between cars!
10. That attractive wrought iron on the windows and doors in Detroit is NOT ornamental. DO NOT get out of your car to take pictures.
11. Never stare at the driver of the car with the bumper sticker that says "Keep honking, I'm reloading." He/she is.
12. If you are in the left lane, and only going 60 in a 70 mph zone, people are not waving because they are friendly.
13. I-275 and I-696 is our daily version of NASCAR.
14. It's not M-10, it's "the Lodge."
15. That's not a lake, it's a pothole.
16. If someone tells you it's on Outer Drive, you better hope you have a map.
17. The Michigan left turn is simple. If you want to turn left, go a quarter mile past your turn, get to the left, then make a left, then make another left, then make a right when you get back to the intersection where you wanted to turn left in the first place. NOW you have gone left.
18. And those 2 really ugly arches over Telegraph? Don't even ask. Even we don't have a clue.
Welcome, enjoy your stay, and avoid eye-contact with the locals.

It's all fun, to paraphrase another warning you're likely to get from Mom, until someone loses a life. This third items is the perfect illustration. Last night here in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb, a 34-year old man on a major thoroughfare managed to take out nine cars in a very serious accident. He killed one man, injured two women (including a pregnant woman), and tied up traffic just as evening rush hour was coming to a close. To add to the excitement, he was traveling at a very high rate of speed - close to 90 MPH at one point. As is often the case in these stories, the driver wasn't seriously injured. He was treated and released to police custody a few hours after the incident.

We've had a rash of hit-and-run accidents here in the city over the past few months. The most recent one, the fourth story I came across about careless driving, occurred over the weekend when a young girl was struck and killed while crossing a major intersection on her bike. A friend who was with her and witnessed the entire incident, was not hurt. The driver was a man in his thirties who was turned in by his friend after he admitted he hit "something" on the way home and never stopped. There was no mention in the report I saw on the news as to whether the driver felt any remorse for not stopping or had any intentions of turning himself in. (Note: 3/21/06 - See below for an update to this story.)

The final story is a whopper. A local couple had recently been feuding - some sort of domestic dispute according to reports, possibly child custody. The argument came to a head late last week while the couple were in a parking lot. The man decided to end the argument with his girfriend once and for all by attempting to run her over. When she fled, that didn't stop him. He merely drove his car into the grocery store she ran in to for safety- not once, but three times. This was at the height of the grocery store's busiest part of the day. His SUV was just a few feet away from hitting a mother and daughter - innocent bystanders just trying to redeem bottles for deposit - in the market's foyer.

The common denominator in these last three anecdotes was alcohol: All three drivers were or were suspected of drinking and driving. Doesn't get more exciting that that, does it?

I don't point out these stories to be hard on Detroit, or that men are more reckless behind the wheel than women. I know there are similar stories with any combination of perpetrators and victims that could be reported on any city's newscasts or in any town's newspapers. I also don't want to seem as though I'm on some sort of safety patrol soapbox - I'm as guilty as anyone else of fiddling with the radio, blabbing on the cell, or not signaling from time to time when I make an "obvious" lane shift on the freeway. What I do hope to point out, the lesson that I gleaned from these stories, is that it couldn't hurt for me to listen to my mom's advice without brushing it off. We need to be more concerned about and aware of all the other people with whom we share the road. I know I'll be working to be a better, more courteous driver. If other people start with the person they see in their rear view, things can only get better. Think of how exciting that would be.

Be careful driving, folks. There are some crazy people out there.

More to come later.

3/21/06 UPDATE: An update to this story ran on the local news last night, and they provided some clarifications. The driver was 28 years old, the little girl was 15 years old, and the witness was her sister, not her friend. Also, the girl was crossing against the light at the intersection. The only glimmer of hope in this story is that three of her organs were able to be donated to other patients. I couldn't find a link to this story this morning, but when I do, I"ll add it to this post.

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