This observation appeared in a newspaper editorial on the dangerous driving here, and it was published a few days after I collided with a woman running a red light.
She stopped in the intersection and came over to my car, very apologetic and concerned that I might have been hurt. Neither of us was, and the damage to our vehicles was not huge. We pulled over, she called a policeman, and he filed a report stating that she admitted running a red light.
However, several days later and relying on her version of the incident without seeing the police report, her insurance company’s claim representative concluded that I had been “100% responsible.” I had “failed to maintain a proper lookout while entering an intersection.”
A NEW PERSPECTIVE
This is not the last of the matter, of course, because my own insurance company will now take over. However, I wanted to share my reflections and research on this matter because both ramped up the significance of the experience.
Actually, I think I am a little bit guilty–maybe 20%, as my own agency estimates. Clearly, I had either failed to maintain “proper lookout,” or I had chosen to crash into the driver to teach her a lesson, which doesn’t sound like me. And I will be much more vigilant in the future. If I’m not, a friend said, “You may be right, but you’ll be just as dead.”
And then came the opinion editorial I mentioned in the beginning that further highlighted the risks abroad. The source of that opening point is Mayor Alan Webber, who was paraphrasing an observation some residents find funny. The editorial went on to list some of the strategies that may be pursued to address the local problem of very dangerous driving.
In the meantime, I think we all need to get in touch with the idea that the issue here may be symptomatic of a larger, national shift toward an “Anything goes” kind of culture. Are people driving crazy everywhere?
THE BIG PICTURE
I really began to notice the climb in dangerous driving here in about 2018. I think this may have had to do in part with the horrific wildfires in California, when many residents seemed to evacuate to Santa Fe and subsequently settle here. At about that time, I began to hear that term, the “California stop.”
Not to blame too much on Californians, let’s go to the subject of color. Red just doesn’t mean what it once did, whether at a light or a sign. In the latter case, the phrase “California roll” comes up, and there is more and more “rolling” here at stop signs.
Now let’s go to yellow, a color long associated with cowardice. Think of the yellow-bellied frog that hops away from you in fear. And the yellow yolk of a hen’s egg may have inspired the “Chicken!” insult. As you approach a yellow light, the question may come up. “Are you a chicken?”
Often in that moment of decision in Santa Fe, my red brake lights seem to enrage the pick-up truck driver behind me. If he rear-ended me, would I be held responsible for a too-quick response, like I have been at green? That color also doesn’t mean what it used to.
Things are kind of confusing. But there’s even more.
THE GREATEST DANGER
If you look up the primary cause of accidents in the United States, the first item on the list is “distracted driving” from talking or texting on cellphones. And according to the National Safety Council, the hands-free technology being installed in dashboards distracts the brain even longer than hand-held devices.
The Council estimates that distracted driving leads to about 1.6 million crashes each year. So who’s doing it? Apparently women are more likely than men. And as I note while driving around, it doesn’t seem that anyone knows that New Mexico passed a law in 2014 making it illegal for people to text or talk on the phone while driving. In fact, this kind of law has been passed in every state except Montana.
Apparently, owners of the Apple iOS are most likely to get distracted, even watching YouTube while they drive. This brought up another concern. The young people are probably the most addicted to their devices. I see this possibility in the high school students enrolled in the Masters Program at Santa Fe Community College. They walk around phones in hand, constantly checking them, convening socially to share their content, etc.
I don’t know how many of them are driving yet, but when they are, it’s unlikely that this preoccupation will vanish. And in several surveys I encountered, many teens responded that they felt an obligation to respond immediately to any text message. When they hit the road as adults, that’s going to make for new hazards, don’t you think?
Well, I’ve strayed from my original theme, but as I studied the information on distracted driving, my mind went back to my collision. During the moments when I was exchanging information with the other driver–I think she is maybe in her late 40s–she made a little comment that caused me to wonder if she had been talking on her cellphone as she entered that intersection.
And, really, how do you get people to stop doing that? It’s not a problem for me because I rarely use my phone. But clearly, the law doesn’t work in controlling risky usage. Insurance rates may be a little disciplinary, soaring over 20% here in New Mexico if you get caught. But with all our advances in technology, will the day come when drivers can be monitored and controlled in their cars? Hmm. An interesting prospect.
At any rate, whatever the outcome of my own incident relative to insurance coverage, my perspective has changed. In fact, I think my incident could possibly serve to save my life someday due to being much more alert as a result.
I now also know that trying to do the right thing is not enough. In addition, I should serve as kind of an enabler, dedicated to driving safely but also hyper-alert to protect others from the consequences of their own errors.
I’ve changed. Saint E is the new me.