Sharing the road with drunks — and worse

There are certain days I try not to ride. Or if I do, I try to get out and back before the kegs and cocktails start flowing.

Like Christmas Eve. New Years Eve. Super Bowl Sunday.

And yes, St. Patrick’s Day.

Days when the risk of getting intimately acquainted with the bumper of an intoxicated driver is just too high for comfort. And not based on statistics or studies, but my own personal experience of having dodged far too many far too close calls over the years.

Lately, though, it’s become clear that there’s another roadway risk that’s not tied to the calendar or the local bar. One that seems to be a daily, and rapidly growing, occurrence.

Take Monday’s ride.

I was at the base of San Vicente Blvd in Santa Monica, waiting to make my left onto Ocean Blvd.

I watched as the driver approaching from my left signaled for a right turn. And having been fooled by far too many turn signals over the years, waited until she actually began her right before starting across the intersection

Then I jammed on my brakes as she suddenly cut back to her left, forcing the driver behind her to slam on his brakes — as well as his horn — as she blew through the stop sign in front of her.

And rolled through the very spot I would have been occupying if I hadn’t hit my brakes in time.

It was okay, though, because she gave the other driver L.A.’s ubiquitous “sorry” wave. And I’m sure she would have gladly directed it my way as well, if only she’d actually seen me.

Do I really need to mention that she was on her cell phone the whole time?

Or consider another incident from last week.

I was on Beverly Glen, waiting with a long line of cars to make the left onto Olympic Blvd. And watched in horror as a pickup coming from the other direction made a right turn onto Olympic from the opposite left turn lane, cutting off three lanes of traffic in the process.

He then drove well below the speed limit, swerving from lane to lane before finally forcing his way into the left lane, nearly leaving a demolition derby’s worth of cars strewn in his wake.

Thanks to his slow speed, I found myself stopped at the same light with him, so I looked over, expecting to see a noticeably drunk motorist behind the wheel.

Instead, he had his hands in his lap.

No, texting.

Or consider another case from later that same day, when I took my car out to run an errand.

Just a few blocks past the spot of the earlier incident, I put on my turn signal and slowed to make a right turn. And nearly got rear-ended by a driver who evidently couldn’t see the car directly ahead of him, despite the working turn signal and brake lights.

And yes, I checked.

And yes, he had his phone pressed tightly to his ear.

So what do you think my chances would have been if I’d been on a bike instead of wrapped within a rolling ton of rubber, glass and steel?

I wish these were just random events. But the fact is, simple observation suggests that the laws prohibiting handheld phones and texting behind the wheel are almost universally ignored these days — though I have noticed more drivers holding their phones in their right hands, where they would presumably be less noticeable from a passing patrol car.

Even though studies have consistently shown that talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk.

And texting behind the wheel is worse.

Which brings up the problem.

We can ban dangerous behavior behind the wheel and pass all the laws we want to protect cyclists and pedestrians.

But just like the trash bins in the bike lanes on Venice Blvd — or the three-foot passing law in our neighbors to the east — it won’t make a damn bit of difference without adequate enforcement.

7 comments

  1. TheTricksterNZ says:

    Best way to solve it, instead of a fine the cops get to throw the phone down the drain instantly. It’d stop some at least anyway.

    • bikinginla says:

      I’m often tempted to just reach in and snatch the phone away from a driver as I roll past, and throw it as far as I can.

  2. Chewie says:

    It’s so senseless. What call or text could possibly be worth endangering your life or the lives of others? I hope they still show those vomit-inducing red asphalt videos in traffic school . . .

    The LA Times just reported that there were 711 traffic fatalities in LA County in 2008, which was only slightly lower than the number of homicides in the county the same year (880).

    It’s definitely a worthwhile law enforcement priority.

    Traffic Fatalities:
    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-traffic-fatals.eps-20100315,0,7173387.graphic

    Homicides:
    http://projects.latimes.com/homicide-report/map/?year=2008

    • bikinginla says:

      I’d like to say it’s amazing that no one gets up in arms about traffic deaths like they do homicides in L.A. But most of the time, people just take those in stride, too.

  3. Digital Dame says:

    I was beginning to think I’d imagined or hallucinated that Oregon had passed a law which took effect Jan 1 prohibiting talking on a handheld cell or texting while driving. I still see so many people talking with the phone pressed to their ears as they drive that I thought surely I was mistaken, there is no such law here. This many people can’t possibly be ignorant of it, or ignoring it, can they?

    Sadly, they can. Too bad they can’t impound the vehicle if they get busted while talking on the phone.

  4. Hank Chinaski says:

    I tend to think that since both alcohol and phones have essentially the same effect on a driver’s ability that the penalty should be essentially the same as a DUI. Crazy I know.

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