Monday, December 08, 2008

I hate driving

I got my first speeding warning a couple of weeks ago. Several times I've not seen pedestrians wanting to cross the road, who fortunately know enough not to try to cross until the car driving down both sides have stopped. I worry a lot about my driving. It's a constant battle to stay present.

I want you to know I no longer talk on the cell phone when I drive. I always used a remote when I did, but I read recently that talking on a phone, even if you are on a remote, is like driving drunk. And it played a part in my getting my warning too. So I ain't gonna do it.

I have no excuses. I mean, I could have: I got my license late, when I was in my early 20s. I didn't get a car until I was in my late 20s and I only drove it a year or two. I've lived in cities most of my life, where driving mostly means moving the car to the other side of the street twice a week for street cleaning. I've never had an accident -- well, I nicked a retaining wall two summers ago and took off the side of our brand-new Subaru, so I guess I can't say that any more. I had to file an accident report and it cost $2500 to repair the thing. Insurance paid for it but then our rates went up, natch.

The speeding warning was lucky and I was stupid. Ignorant. I was in the left lane on I-91 trying to get to Lily's school. Well, true confessions: I was talking on the remote. I hung up and noticed an unmarked police car behind me. I had no idea how fast I was going and I made sure to go 65, the speed limit. There are a lot of state police on this stretch of I-91 weekdays at 4 pm. I notice them all the time, waiting, stopping someone, cruising. This one was cruising.

But then I made a big mistake. A big, ignorant mistake. I panicked a bit and decided he wanted to pass me. He was right on my tail and I hate that. So I sped up. A lot. I had to pass the car in the right-hand lane beside me. I got passed the guy, and slowed back down to 65. And noticed the cop behind me again, but this time his blue lights were flashing. Oh, dear.

So I signaled and pulled over and pulled out my registration and license. He surprised me by coming up on the right-hand side. He immediately asked, have you ever been stopped before? For a ticket, a warning, anything? I said no. No, no, no. Keep it that way! I clocked you at 81. I was sufficiently terrified and nervous.

So I got my warning and I was properly scared. I said I was trying to get my kid at school and he said it wouldn't take long and it didn't. Of course I went the speed limit the rest of the drive. And as I drove, I got to thinking about it. I figured he'd stopped me because I might have been speeding when I was on the phone, but then it occurred to me that maybe it was when I consciously sped up to let him pass me.

As some of you know we live right by a state police barracks, so on the way home Lily sat in the car while I ran in. I figured someone would be there to ask questions, and there was. A really nice trooper was sitting dispatch, it looked like. I handed him my warning and said, I moved here recently from New York City and I need to know, is there an outer limit I can drive, and not get a ticket, like 70, 75? He looked at me a second, to see if I was serious, I guess, and said, I usually give people 10 or 15 miles, but it's up to the officer. Anything over 65 is speeding.

Okay, I said, so what if I'm in the left lane trying to pass someone on right, can I speed then? He really looked me over this time. But I am nothing if not sincere, and I guess he saw that because he just said, No. Anything over the speed limit is speeding.

And yes, even though I haven't figured out cruise control yet, now I never talk on the phone and I always go the speed limit, at least never over 70, and almost never much over 65 unless I'm not paying attention. I go the speed limit on local roads too, which actually scare me much more, in some ways, because of pedestrians.

Pedestrians. So in New York City they have to have a walk sign to cross a street, and everyone knows what to do. Of course there are jaywalkers, but mostly you're okay there because they know they're being bad so they're watching for drivers. Drivers have to watch for legal pedestrians, of course, but you know they're crossing because when you have the green, they have the walk sign. Here, pedestrians have the right of way no matter what, especially in crosswalks, of which there are many, many, many in the downtowns around here.

I try to be really polite as a driver. When I see someone going the other way waiting to get across my lane, I usually stop and let them turn, especially if there's a line of cars behind them. It's so easy to do and so helpful to the folks behind the turner. Today, on my way to get Lily, I saw such a car, and I stopped and let her turn into traffic. She didn't wave her thanks, but she had Jersey plates and looked about 12 so I figured she was a college student.

A couple of blocks later, a car turning into traffic from a street across from me caught my eye. I slowed but didn't stop because they could turn without my doing anything. But then I look to my side of the street and see a woman carrying some stuff, waiting to cross. Thank god she didn't start out. I screeched to a halt, right across the crosswalk, and felt really stupid. I figured I'd better get out of her way, so I started up again, looking in my rear view mirror to see if she was okay. She was, and she was staring at me a bit incredulously. The car behind me had stopped for her.

So, clearly I am at fault here, and thank god everyone is okay. I've been in this position before, and I hate it. No matter how careful I think I'm being, I still miss stuff, especially pedestrians in crosswalks.

Now my question is, how do I avoid this in the future? I think the answer is to creep through town and to always assume that someone is in the crosswalk, even though there usually isn't. Which I do! I really do! but this time there really was someone, and I hadn't seen her and it scared the spit out of me. I hate cars. I hate driving. I miss subways. That I miss about New York.

1 comment:

  1. Ya know if you looked like THE PRESIDENT ELECT you would have gotten that speeding ticket and who knows what would have happened when you asked "is there an outer limit I can drive, and not get a ticket, like 70, 75?"

    Don't worry, everybody in New York knows to stay out of you path because you got that little thing on the ends of your car that says Massachusetts. ;)


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