I am not a huge fan of Bicycling magazine. This month’s issue really stands out with a well written piece called Broken. David Darlington outlines in his piece the current issues facing both riders and drivers as we look to co-exist on roadways that are struggling to handle increasing traffic.
The good news as pointed out in the article is that cycling fatalities have remained constant over the years. I have no reason to doubt those figures even my gut tells me that every passing day brings more and more close calls. I’ll also state for the record I think most drivers are good people and are not out trying to reclaim the road. So I’ll focus my thoughts on how to make the figures even better.
I have several thoughts on this topic so I’ll probably break them up into segments over the next few days. Here is my first point of consideration. Distracted drivers – zoning out.
I am old enough to remember when a commute served a special purpose. A time to unwind and transition between working Jim and home Jim. Back in those days it was pre laptop and pre cellphone. When I left the office, I left the office. My briefcase may have had some papers that needed reading but when I drove, I let the workday fall by the wayside.
Today, our lives are so crazy that when driving, our minds are focused on everything but driving. We leave the office with a million and one things on our minds that take us into another world. Combine this with longer commutes and you have a recipe for a zoned out driver. When you get lost in your own thoughts, your brain goes on autopilot. Have you ever “come to” on your commute and wondered how you got there?
A brain on autopilot is a dangerous thing. It is programmed to see car things. Everything else gets filtered out. I remember reading a study that explained this phenomenon. If I ask you to get me the jar of mayonnaise from the refrigerator, your brain calls up a picture of the jar. You open the door and your brain, on auto pilot, scans the contents for that item in the picture. Everything else gets filtered out. If the jar is actually a new squeeze bottle then you will most likely not see the mayo. Men are most susceptible to this type of filtering. Go ahead ladies. Have fun with that one.
I’ve had this happen to me. I was riding over an overpass when a car exited the freeway. At the top of the ramp, he was looking to take a right onto the road I was using. He stopped and looked right at me. Then he accelerated and nearly ran me over. After apologizing profusely, he said he never saw me. I was filtered out.
I find the most dangerous roads to be like the one I just described. I call them tweeners. They lie between the highway and residential neighborhoods. People exit the highways where the autopilot works well as there are only car things allowed. Once they exit, the brain has not yet engaged and the speed tends to be high. By the time a driver pulls into a neighborhood, most are human again.
With all the stresses in our lives, how do we coexist?