Clumsy driving is usually the central subject of this column. Speedsters, texters, and should-have-failed-driving test-ers account for a large part of the bedlam on the roads. Failing to plan for commutes before embarking on them causes traffic jams and distracted driving to increase.
The interest of traffic reporters like me usually goes as far as the entrance to a parking lot. Once we know a crash is on private property and not affecting the road, we turn the page. There are plenty of traffic jams and incidents to discuss that affect far more people. But parking lot wrecks and driving behavior are each big problems and sometimes operate in accord with conditions on the streets.
Since cars in lots are not in traffic, drivers often operate with a lower guard. Drivers often use that time at a slow 5 mph roll to adjust a turn-by-turn app, set audio, finish a text, or they just simply drive with little awareness. But parking lots are the most likely places for small - and sometimes terrible - crashes to occur.
Blacktops and driveways have the least predictable traffic: vehicles back up with little notice, shopping carts roll free, delivery trucks stop at curbs, and pedestrians constantly traverse the rows. Mix in highly distracted and undefensive drivers and the combination can be deadly.
Most instances of pedestrians hit that we hear in our WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center are in parking lots. Once we know that traffic isn’t affected, we move on. But some of those collisions cause life-threatening or life-altering injuries and even death. And they are always avoidable. Either the driver, the person on foot, or both could have given more ground, been more aware, or been less reckless and averted calamity.
This issue is top of mind after a scare that my wife, Momo, and our dog, Stallz, recently experienced. As Momo walked Stallz on the northbound sidewalk of Peachtree Blvd. in Chamblee, they prepared to cross the QuikTrip driveway at Pierce Dr. A vehicle preparing to leave the parking lot sat stopped in the driveway, waiting to turn right. When that driver saw a truck in the right lane begin a right turn into QT, she advanced, as Momo and Stallz were just crossing the plane of the front of her car.
At this point, awareness averted calamity. Had Momo taken for granted that the vehicle would remain stopped, she would have confidently marched forward. But Momo had the presence of mind to keep an eye on the car.
The female driver, not paying a lick of attention to the woman and dog in front of her, chose to mash the gas as soon as she saw the truck turn. Momo stopped just in time. Crisis avoided, right? Not yet.
As soon as Momo stopped and the woman saw that she had, the overeager motorist hit the gas again to leave. This all took place in a split-second. Momo, already adrenalized from the first near-miss and driven by her protective and maternal instinct, jerked Stallz back just in the nick of time, as the car left the driveway. That selfish driver had no idea Momo was walking a dog and completely ignored both Stallz’s and Momo’s right of way. Both my wife and my dog - my buddies - could have been hurt…or worse.
Even this near-miss had a lasting effect. Momo called me just beside herself as I drove to a series of important meetings. Stallz, already a hyper Belgian malinois, saw his energy and aggression levels peg. She didn’t want to walk on that stretch of road for several days and still, two weeks later, gets extremely worked up when telling that story.
Many drivers, including this writer, also take for granted that parking lots offer less chaos than roads. Our driving decisions as we move from streets to lots also matter greatly. When making left-hand turns across busy roads and into driveways, we may gas up faster than we should to try and beat oncoming traffic. When we do that, we assume the “hole” we are aiming for in the driveway or lot will remain open. However, disasters happen when an unexpected car or pedestrian fills that space. Now a fast, left-turning car has almost no time to adjust. And if that left-turning vehicle stops in the road, oncoming traffic may hit it. That, then, creates a traffic jam upon which us traffic anchors will actually report.
Mishaps multiply mishaps. That tragic equation plays out on the high speed freeways and with great, tragic consequence. But navigating parking lots and driveways also requires the attention that algebra does. One small error in judgment, one quick glance away, or one aggressive peel around the corner is all that serpent of disaster needs for a slow-speed strike. Don’t take the seeming serenity of parking lot-driving for granted.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.
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