chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

Experience

Experience April/May 2024

How to Be Streetwise

David Z Kaufman

Summary

  • Pedestrian deaths have been increasing dramatically.
  • Assume others will act erratically or recklessly, and act accordingly
  • Be hypervigilant if you are driving and pay attention to your surroundings whether driving, biking, or a pedestrian.
  • Keep your emotions under control, don’t incite or indulge in road rage.
How to Be Streetwise
Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

Jump to:

Today I went out for a walk with Bentley, my Newfoundland dog. He’s coal black and 130 pounds. We were early, very early, about 7 a.m. Here in Florida, that’s dark. So he wore a florescent vest.

So did I.

What the heck? Why would we wear florescent vests?

That’s because it’s dark and even alert people—who aren’t drinking their coffee or looking at their phones—might not see us. And at 7 a.m., what are the odds that every driver will be alert? And not drinking their coffee from travel mugs? Or not looking at their phones to see whatever it is that people look at their phones for?

I don’t think those odds are very good, so I’m extra careful in the early hours when it’s dark. I’m equally careful, and take the same precautions, when we’re walking in the evening when it’s dark—full florescent vests for both of us. For the same reasons.

But this doesn’t always protect us. More than once, I’ve stopped short crossing the street as some mindlessly absorbed or distracted driver has plowed through a red light or made a turn through a crosswalk without checking to see if someone is there.

Fortunately for me, Bentley is well trained and walks at heel when we’re out. But still.

I’ve had way too many close calls. It’s no wonder that pedestrian deaths have been increasing dramatically for the past ten years.

The dangers of motorcycles and other bikes

It’s not just cages (what I call a four-wheeled vehicle), though. More than once here in Sarasota, I’ve had bicyclists come up behind us in broad daylight and, believe it or not, try to ride between Bentley and me. I’m honestly not sure what they’re thinking since he’s never more than about five feet from me and is almost always at heel.

Some of these bicyclists are moving at speed, too. I’m not sure how fast they’re going, but I am sure that they should be on the road, not on the sidewalks where we are.

It’s the same story when I’m on my bicycle or worse. I can’t count the times some driver has passed me way too close, almost clipping me with their mirror or bumper, even though I ride carefully on the right or in bicycle lanes. Several times, my friends have been knocked down by cages while on their bicycle. At the same time, I’ve almost hit pedestrians who’ve stepped out in front of me.

Believe it or not, it’s actually worse when I’m on my motorcycle. Now I understand that some people might not see a small motorcycle. But mine weighs more than 1,000 pounds. I’ve got two LED headlights, two LED side lights, two lights on each side of the bike, and five lights on the back end. If all my lights come on, you can see me on the moon!

Whatever the vehicle, the risks are there

So why do drivers cut in front of me? Turn in front of me? Pull out into the road in front of me?

I’m pretty sure it’s because they’re drinking coffee, checking their phone, or otherwise distracted. It’s gotten to the point where I tell other, newer, motorcycle riders that they have to ride as if someone has put a $50,000 bounty on their head and every cage out there is trying to collect!

Finally, I don’t want to minimize the dangers to other car drivers. Not long ago, I was cruising along on Interstate 75 doing about 80 miles an hour in the right-hand lane and coming up on another car in the middle lane doing about 75.

Suddenly, a car burst into view on my left, cut to the right, ducked between my car and the car in the middle lane, and was gone. That car absolutely had to be doing more than 100 mph. But it wasn’t a car: it was a big pickup truck! It was purely something that the fool driver didn’t crack up and kill us all.

How to stay safe on roads and sidewalks

So what’s my point and the point of this column? It’s simple: You and only you must take care to protect against the stupid acts of others. You may have the right of way on roads or sidewalks, but that counts for exactly nothing when you get hit.

What can you do to protect yourself? Stay alert, look twice, and assume the worst. If you don’t, you’re your own weakest link.

Here are some of my specific suggestions for staying safe:

1. Pay attention. If you’re a pedestrian, you must assume you’re invisible to everyone, including (bless me) other pedestrians. So act like it. Use your eyes to keep aware of your surroundings, including behind you and on both sides.

Since no one can see you, you must see them first and be sure to get out of their way. Since everyone but you is moving fast, you must be aware of more than your immediate surroundings.

When you come to an intersection, even if you have the right of way, assume that cages, bicycles, and motorcycles won’t see you or will just act as if you aren’t there. Use your ears, too. Don’t use your phone for extended conversations, for podcasts, or for other things when you’re outdoors walking.

You don’t need to be distracted from your surroundings. Instead, stop and enjoy the real world.

2. Assume others will act erratically or recklessly. If you’re on a motorcycle or bicycle, you, too, are invisible to cagers, but the problem is worse since you’re on their roads, not sidewalks. Assume it’s open season on you at all times because it is.

I’ve read too many stories recently about drivers who run a red light, turn right or left from the middle lane, and hit bicyclists or motorcyclists. The driver is cited for reckless driving or driving while under the influence, the cage is (maybe) dented, but the bike or motorcycle rider is dead. Watch the cage’s front wheels. If they move in your direction, the cage will, too. So get out of the way.

Recently, I was in the left lane of a three-lane fork going right. Suddenly, the minivan in the middle lane drifted wide into my lane. As I ran onto the shoulder, I could see the driver’s face: she was completely shocked and surprised I was there and that she’d driven me onto the shoulder.

My only saving grace was that I saw her wheels drifting left and moved out of the way. Otherwise she would have run right over me. I’m sure she would have been sorry and cried after, but I still would have been badly injured or dead.

3. Be hyper careful as you drive. If you’re in a car, look twice before you turn or change lanes: once for other cages and once specifically for motorcyclists, bicyclists, or pedestrians. If you don’t and are unlucky enough to hit someone, your life will change, and not for the better. Since you’re a fellow lawyer, I don’t need to spell out the consequences.

4. Keep your emotions in check. Finally, a word about road rage. Don’t provoke it, and don’t indulge in it. Most advice columns I’ve seen discussing road rage deal with “don’t do it.”

But, again, only you can control you. Don’t do things you can be reasonably sure will provoke road rage. A neighbor of mine has a bumper sticker on the back of their SUV: “The closer you get, the slower I get.”

Really?

I also used to know someone who hated to be passed. So they would repass anyone who passed them and then slow way down. As if to teach a lesson.

Really?

Don’t be a threat to yourself and yours. Don’t be the weakest link.

Drive sensibly. Don’t hog the passing lane. Obey commonsense rules of courtesy. And let the crazies go on their way. Don’t argue. Some people are crazy and have to win at everything. All you have to do is get where you’re going safely.

In the meanwhile, to quote “Hill Street Blues” Sergeant Phil Esterhaus’s morning roll call catchphrase, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

    Authors