A few weeks back while listening to the police scanner I asked my wife, “why are there so many fair weather accidents in Niagara County?” Some days, it seems like total chaos on the roads, with motorists hitting oncoming cars and stationary trees and buildings on days when you would least expect them to –no snow, black ice, no rain.
I’ve probably answered my question thousands of times with my own thoughts and observations. I spend a lot of time on the Empire State’s roads (almost 25,000 miles each year) and not a day goes by when I don’t cringe or let out a “whoa” and, in turn, wonder why I don’t see more accidents.
For the most part, Western New Yorkers are good, conscientious drivers – you don’t see the tailgaters and aggression that you might see in a big city, but there are a fair number of really bad drivers or maybe some really bad habits that many drivers occasionally dabble in.
Here are some of the most common bad habits that I see on the road…
Thinking that size doesn’t matter: Spending a lot of time on major trucking routes like Route 104, I often see cars pull out in front of tractor trailers. It’s almost as if these motorists, usually the young and inexperienced, think that trucks, as big as they are, can’t move as fast as cars. They can. The big trucks are going the speed limit and they have loads that are sometimes 40 times the weight of a compact. Sooner or later, I will see a truck unable to brake in time -- and it will be ugly.
Texting while driving: Despite all the hands-free laws and ad campaigns, people still text and drive. I see it every day. You can tell by the meandering, drifting driving and the drivers’ eyes affixed to something on their lap. It’s ignorant; at a speed of 55 glancing at a handheld device for just 2 seconds is like driving half the length of a football field blindfolded. As one would expect, the 18 to 22 crowd make up about half the offenders; surprisingly, the other half are those who should know better, my generation, folks who look to be 38 to 42.
Running red lights: On my commute, I have to cross 6 lighted intersections. On every afternoon drive, I see at least 2 cars go through red lights. That’s every day that I see this. These aren’t people going through yellows; these are drivers punching it when they see yellow or not using yellow as their cue to stop. Last year, my wife was t-boned and her car wrecked by someone running a red light. Had there been a passenger in my wife’s car, that person would have died (it grosses me out to think “what if my kid was in the back seat?”). Tip for the Niagara County Sheriff: consistently-bad light runners can be found heading southbound on Route 78 through the retail intersection with 104 in Wrights Corners.
4 wheel drive super heroes: I drive a 4 wheel drive truck. Even when in four I still drive cautiously on our winter roads. You have to be in control on our snowy windswept roads. But, there are other truck and SUV drivers who think that 4WD is a super power and they drive at and well above the speed limit on snowy and icy roads. These are the tough guys who end up in a ditch, blame the weather and not themselves. Hopefully, they never end up in the oncoming lane.
Getting into the oncoming lane: One of my biggest pet peeves is those drivers who go around cars making right-hand turns, and roadside garbage trucks and police cars. They do so by heading into the oncoming lane while cars are coming at them, assuming that those drivers will move over and ride the shoulder to give them enough room. Sooner or later, I will see a head-on because of that. People just have to learn to pause, be patient and not leave their lane until the opposite lane is clear. A few seconds of waiting is better than a few days in the hospital.
Unbuckled kids: Is this a new trend for 2017? This year I’ve seen quite a few small children and even toddlers unrestrained and moving around in the back seats of their parents’ cars. The last time I saw that happening was back in the early ‘80s before laws changed and parents were educated on safety. It’s dangerous, kids can go flying and there’s nothing worse than someone getting ejected in an accident. Love your kids – fasten their seatbelts.
Those are just a few of the bad behaviors I’ve seen on local highways. There are many more. Each one, in its own way, is risky, even scary. If you know someone who’s guilty of being impatient, distracted or anything along those lines, have a chat with them before it’s too late for them or another motorist.
From the 15 May 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers