It only takes a few seconds to spare a life. So why are so many drivers unwilling to wait?

A couple of seconds.

Two, maybe three tops.

That’s all it took, as a large truck stopped at the intersection across from me, waiting to make his left, and completely obscuring the vision of the driver behind him.

She could have waited for the few seconds it would have taken for the truck to move out of her way, giving her a clear view of the traffic in front of her. Instead, she blindly stomped on the gas and cut sharply to her right into the parking lane, in an attempt to blow through the intersection before the light changed.

Which just happened to be the intersection I was occupying at that exact moment, as I used the opportunity to make my own left.

Which made me a sitting duck.

At the speed she was going, there was nothing I could do to get out of her way; even so, I instinctively jammed on my brakes, knowing it would do little good and bracing for impact.

I remember an idle thought floating through my mind as I wondered just how far her car was going to throw me through the air. Or if the car behind me would be able to stop in time to avoid making me a bike sandwich.

Fortunately, she saw me directly ahead of her and hit her brakes hard, coming to a panic stop about four feet in front of me.

Thanks God for anti-lock brakes.

Without them, she likely would have left skid marks extending far beyond where I was stopped.

So only seconds after it all began, we found ourselves facing one another, her face completely impassive. Maybe that was because she blamed me for what almost happened. Maybe she didn’t care.

Or maybe she was still trying to process the prospect of nearly killing another human being because she was too damned impatient to wait until she could see where she was going.

You see it every day.

Drivers who blare on the horn if someone ahead of them has the audacity to slow down to make a turn or pull into a parking space. Who swerve to the right or left to zoom around cars stopped for a pedestrian — or a cyclist — in a crosswalk, with no idea why they’re stopped. And too often with tragic results.

Or the second or third driver in a left turn lane, who blindly follow the cars ahead even though their vision is obscured and they have no idea what’s in the road directly ahead of them.

And don’t get me started on the ones who seem unable to follow behind a cyclist for even a few seconds.

Like the woman who passed me on the wrong side of the road earlier in my ride, even though she was going up a hill that completely hid the car approaching from the other side. And ignored my shouted warnings until she had to cut back sharply to avoid a head-on collision. Or the driver who oddly insisted on zooming past and cutting in front of me even though we were only feet from a red light.

Even though there is absolutely nothing in the vehicle code that says you have the right to drive unimpeded by any other people or vehicles on the road.

It’s not just an L.A. problem, either.

I’ve always thought that distracted, drunk or overly aggressive motorists were the most dangerous drivers on the road.

But more and more, I’m starting to believe that it’s the ones who are simply impatient and unwilling to wait the few seconds it takes to drive safely who pose the greatest risk to everyone else on the road.

Today, an impatient driver nearly killed me.

Tomorrow, she may succeed with someone else.

………

A couple other quick notes.

David Proffer forwards news of a Los Olivos woman facing charges for plowing into a group of cyclists last March, leaving one with broken bones and putting another rider in a coma that’s lasted nearly two months.

Alicia Gilbert is charged with driving under the influence of a drug, causing bodily injury, failing to provide accurate information at the scene of a collision, providing a false identity and driving with a suspended license.

Oh, and child endangerment for driving with her 8-month old child while she was high. Not that they wanted to throw the book at her or anything.

She’s being held on $200,000 bail, which seems obscenely low given the circumstances.

Meanwhile, a fund has been set up for Gary Holmes, the cyclist suffering from a traumatic brain injury caused by his frontal lobe shifting back and forth within his skull, as well as two broken arms, both knees shattered and a collapsed lung.

And the milk of human kindness seems to have run dry with one subhuman jerk, who left the following comment:

Give this woman a medal! It irks the hell out of me when I come around a blind turn to discover 20 bicyclists riding in the middle of the road.

………

Donald Blunt sends news of a Sacramento cyclist injured by a hit-and-run driver who fled the scene despite being flagged down by a witness. Fortunately, the victim’s injuries aren’t life threatening — though that doesn’t preclude any number of life-altering injuries.

………

Finally, Erik Griswold passes along a letter from a Valley Assemblymember suggesting that changing state law to allow more triple bike racks on buses just isn’t politically viable at this time.

No, seriously.

19 comments

  1. Erik Griswold says:

    Your experience is why I am a fan of the Copenhagen/Two-Step Left. I know it is not approved behavior by certain segments of the racing/touring community, but the extra minute it adds to my travels has been compensated by my having possibly avoided situations you so vividly describe.

    • bikinginla says:

      I base my decision on the traffic at the intersection. If it’s too heavy, I’ll make the L-shape turn you describe; If traffic is lighter and I can assume a visible position in the intersection, I’ll make my turn from the left lane or the turn lane if there’s one available.

  2. Diane Worthington says:

    You were lucky! My brother was not on April 18th of this year. A guy blew thru a red light not paying attention. My brother lost his life because of this man’s carelessness. Our family hurts everyday!!!

    • bikinginla says:

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Diane. I see drivers go through lights after they’ve turned red on almost a daily basis, never realizing the dangers they pose to everyone else. Most of the time they get away with it; when they don’t, the results are tragic.

      My prayers to you and your family.

  3. [...] Steven Can Plan covers the kickoff of Bike Belong’s “Green Lane Project.” And Biking in LA recalls a near-death cycling experience caused by an impatient motorist. Email Share [...]

  4. Over the last several decades, Los Angeles has quickened her motorists into aggressive, intentionally blind warriors of the commute, galvanized by their airbags and insurance, weaving recklessly across road markings and past traffic control devices, knowing that the odds are against serious injury (for them) or any tangible punishment if caught.

  5. BC says:

    We must make major moves toward truly safe bicycle infrastructure (for ages 8 – 80), not just the incremental improvements of white line bike lanes. Otherwise in 20 years we will be celebrating an increase to 2 or 4 percent riding bikes, but the carnage, the tragedies, will continue, maybe increase.

    I’m most inspired by what is going on in London, England, where cycling is better but surprisingly not that much better than in Los Angeles.
    The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, http://www.cycling-embassy.org.uk and the “Love London, Go Dutch” campaign, http://lcc.org.uk/pages/go-dutch

    http://pedestrianiselondon.tumblr.com/

    http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/

  6. Alan Robinson says:

    I’m of the opinion that if the oncoming driver’s view was restricted by the truck, then so was your’s when making the left turn. Even if you have to wait until well after the light turns red for the truck to clear the intersection, it’s still your responsibility to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic during the green and yellow phases. There was impatience by two parties here.

    I agree wholeheartidly with the other dangerous situations you mention.

    • bikinginla says:

      Actually, no. I waited patiently for several cars to clear the intersection, and only entered the intersection once the truck had stopped to make its turn.

      I had the right of way in that circumstance because the truck was completely blocking the only through lane; the only way the driver was able to get around it was by making an illegal lane change and using the parking lane as a through lane.

      In addition, my view was not obstructed because, I was on the opposite side of the intersection, placing me approximately 30 – 40 feet in front of the truck, and several feet to the right of it. I was able to see the driver pull up behind it, giving every indication of stopping, then gunned her engine to pull around it.

      I think virtually anyone — driver, cyclist or pedestrian — would have assumed it was safe to proceed under those circumstances. And it should have been.

      • bikinginla says:

        I might also point out that this is an intersection bear my home, which I ride through several times a week. And this is the first time I have seen anyone attempt something like that there.

        I may be many things as a cyclist, but impatient isn’t one of them.

    • Evan says:

      Way to blame the (near) victim.

  7. You know what’s funny? We refer to this as bicycle safety but honestly isn’t it just road safety? These impatient motorists are hazards to every road user, not just cyclists, not just pedestrians. We ignore their impatience when it results in a car collision, because people don’t often die. There would be far fewer collisions altogether if these people learned some patience.

  8. M says:

    I just had one of these experiences as a pedestrian today while walking home from the nearby Red Line station. There were a total of about 8 people waiting to cross the 101 freeway onramp near Universal City in either direction. Right before the light turned green, I heard the impatient sounds of a driver honking at someone in front of them to make the right turn on a red. The driver, likely feeling pressured, immediately made the turn. Seconds later, the signal turned green for the right turn and the pedestrian crossing signal turned to the walking man. All the pedestrians started crossing, and the impatient honking guy DROVE THROUGH ALL OF THE PEOPLE! It would have taken maybe 10 seconds for all of them to clear the crosswalk, but no, he had to drive through them all, even though they were already off the sidewalk. I wish I could throw karma bombs or something every time this happens. It makes me worried when I encounter these instances as well since I know often times, unless someone is there to see it, drivers are not as accountable as it might seem since they are “accidents”… a nice way to cloak some of the consequences of cars.

    I think some of the blame lies on the city planners (or… lack of planners.) For my situation, there frankly is very little reason that pedestrians trying to use public transportation should have to walk across freeway on and off ramps to get to the subway or train. Freeways are one of the last places someone riding the train needs to be near, yet we seem to place a ridiculous number of the train stops near freeways in LA since fast moving cars and people do not mix. We need to think of public transportation beyond the station or stop itself. How are people getting there? What’s the experience like for pedestrians and bicyclists accessing the station in the immediate area? .25 miles away? .5 miles away? a mile away?

    I think also people in LA need to learn patience as described by others, as well as compassion and a reality check of how dangerous cars are and can be – but mostly it comes down to the golden rule. If someone came running at you with a gun, most people would definitely recognize something wrong was happening. When someone comes at you with a car, whether they blow through an intersection, take a right on a red without even stopping to see if anyone is in the crosswalk or they inch toward you as you walk in the crosswalk so they can take off as soon as you’re gone, it’s all rude, threatening and potentially deadly behavior. Based on people’s behavior though, these activities in cars seem to be rarely treated as equivalent.

    • bikinginla says:

      Well said.

    • Erik Griswold says:

      Right-turn-on-Red needs to be removed from the Vehicle Code. It was a desperate attempt to “save fuel” after the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the resulting oil embargo against the U.S. by “Our Eternal Friends™” in Saudi Arabia. There is no longer a need to do so, and it needs to be repealed for the danger it presents to pedestrians and bicyclists.

  9. DanaPointer says:

    I totally second “Erik Griswold says: Right-turn-on-Red needs to be removed from the Vehicle Code.”

    What organizations in CA are actively working on this? Who can I support in this change to state/federal law?

    (banning right on red would also allow phased turns for first ped then bike then car as well which would increase intersection safety substantially)

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