Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Unsafe in Any Direction


Back in the days when I was young, my friends used to gently mock me for following the rules of the road so carefully. Unless by accident or emergency, I always obeyed the speed limit, waited a full three seconds at stop signs even if the roads were deserted, used my signal lights and drove defensively. I was a goody-two-shoes, and those habits remain to this day - though of course like any driver I've had my embarrassing moments of inattention and bad judgement.

But I've never done anything really crazy such as driving the wrong way on a one-way street, or driving down the wrong side of the road. But I have seen such reckless souls speeding right toward me.

On the first occasion, driving my Mom's borrowed 1982 Corolla, I was heading eastbound on Edmonton's Saskatchewan Drive on the north end of Old Strathcona. I took the hard U-turn that leads down Queen Elizabeth Park Drive, a winding, downhill, two-lane one-way street leading downtown. Shortly after making the turn, near the top of the hill, I encountered another vehicle. Its driver was grim-faced, his eyes fixed doggedly forward as if daring anyone to take issue with his driving. I didn't even wave to warn him of his error, for his expression made it clear that he just didn't care; he was heading up that hill the wrong way no matter what. Fortunately the road wasn't busy, and clearly cars had avoided him simply by switching to the other lane, but I still found it amazing that he'd driven the wrong way nearly for the entire length of the road. As he passed I glanced back over my shoulder to watch him round the corner I'd just navigated in the proper direction, and he disappeared from view. 

I still wonder why that driver remained so committed to his course. If I read his expression correctly, he knew exactly what he was doing, and yet he persisted in endangering life and property. Was he suicidally despondent? Embarrassed but too proud to turn back? An uncaring psychopath? I'll never know.

On the second occasion, while driving a parts truck for Norwest Automotive, I was heading east on 61st avenue between 104th and 103rd streets. This time, an ancient woman in a weather-beaten sedan sped down the wrong side of the road, heading west in my lane. There was a pedestrian on the sidewalk to my right, but the opposite lane was clear so I veered into it to avoid a head-on collision. The woman drove blithely on, blissfully unaware that anything untoward had happened. She slowed down not a fraction.

On the first occasion, I was alarmed but bemused by my near-miss. The second time, I was enraged. But what could I do? In retrospect, I should have called the police and reported a dangerous driver, but I was young and relatively inexperienced and the notion never crossed my mind. I hope neither of those drivers hurt anyone, or themselves.

Both of those incidents showed me how dangerous it is to get behind the wheel at any time. Vehicles aren't toys, and they should be handled with the utmost caution. Lives can be forever changed in the blink of an eye thanks to a single person's poor judgement or inattention.

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