Friday, October 8, 2010

Cone head

The speed limit sign is above the black mailbox on the left.
“What are those cones for?” a driver asked as she slowed down at the end of my driveway. I was standing there chatting with a dad from the bus stop.

“I see them there every day,” she continued, her car actually having come to a complete stop.

“They’re to warn people to slow down,” I told her. “This is our bus stop. People coming the other way really whip around that corner…” I gestured to the bus that was still at the intersection just up the street, waiting to make a left turn.

“Oh,” she said, noncommittally, as she powered the window back up and took her foot off the brake. The bus had turned and cars were advancing.

The dad and I walked out to retrieve the cones, as one or both of us did every morning. My use of cones is not officially sanctioned by any local authorities; it’s just something I decided to do in my fourth year of waiting at this bus stop and watching people drive too fast, distractedly, or both. I bought the cones in the sporting goods department of Target – they’re the same kind of cones soccer coaches use.

Kids from two other houses come to our bus stop and play basketball in our driveway while we’re waiting for the bus. For the most part, they know not to cross the white line that divides the road from the thin no-man’s-land strip of pavement before our lawn and driveway. (We have no sidewalk on our side.) But sometimes they get overly enthusiastic about chasing a ball and don’t stop short enough for our comfort.

“What? I didn’t go in the street. I was just near the street!” Technically that’s true, and kids are always looking for that little loophole, aren’t they?

The speed limit on our street is 25 m.p.h. Most people going east, will naturally slow down, because there’s a stop sign at the end of the road, or sometimes traffic is backed up a little, as we live one house away from the intersection. But people traveling west, have just come off of Main Street where the speed limit is definitely not 25 m.p.h., and whatever it is, no one seems to care anyway. If it’s past 8:30, which it is when we’re out at the bus stop, if commuters are not driving fast, they’re probably going to be late for work, if they aren’t already. Many of them are talking on their cell phones.

I am not spotless here. Before I was the one waiting with kids at the bus stop, I was the one rushing to get to work. Prior to my becoming a telecommuter, I had to drop my kids at daycare/early start (in the opposite direction as my commute) and then make a beeline for work. I remember being annoyed if I got stuck behind a school bus, thinking, “Why does the bus have to stop at every single house? When I was a kid…” Of course I knew not to pass a school bus, but I am sure there were times that I was following too closely.

And I talked on the phone. There was a Monday morning conference call that I had to be on every week at 7:30. There was no way I could do that from the office as I couldn’t drop my kids off early enough to get to the office in time. It would have been a career-limiting move not to “show up” for the meeting. There were other times that I called the traffic advisory, so I could be sure to choose the best route to get to my destination: sometimes the highway was backed up. I am grateful I no longer have to make this choice. If I have an early conference call, which I often do, because I work with people in geographies with eight-and-a-half to 10 or more hours ahead time differences (please don’t ask about the half hour, I still don’t get it), I don’t have to be in the car. The biggest mistake I’m likely to make is putting the wrong yogurt in someone’s lunch or forgetting someone else’s sandwich altogether (which I did last week).

According to AAA, distracted driving – including the use of cell phones – is a major contributor to automobile crashes. Between 4,000 and 8,000 crashes related to distracted driving occur daily in the United States. In a year, they contribute to as many as one-half of the 6 million U.S. crashes reported annually.

Regardless of whether or not our kids are aware of bus stop safety, accidents can still happen. When I bought the house that we live in now, the woman who owned it previously handed over a dossier of photographs. The house used to have an enclosed front porch. When I asked what happened to it, she told me that one night, someone had sped around the corner from Main Street and driven into it, destroying it. If someone were to drive around the corner from Main Street into our front porch now, our bus stop would be in the line of fire.

AAA states that distractions can include anything from eating a sandwich, tending to small children, conversing with a passenger or gazing at objects outside the vehicle. Some of these are activities I participate in regularly. Who doesn’t? Most of the time I’m in the car is because I have to take the kids somewhere and usually we’re talking. But why complicate things further with speeding or cell phone use?

Did you know that October 4-8 was National “Drive Safely to Work Week”? Please consider sharing this message to increase awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. Make every week “Drive Safely to Work Week!” Thank you!

But no one will see it

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