Saturday, 19 December 2009

It pays to be chicken when crossing the road

The van-driver saw me late. So late that as he braked to an emergency stop and I leapt back for my life, I could reach out and touch his wing-mirror.
It was a closer call than I liked, and I think it shook him up a bit too.
I wasn’t jay-walking. I was on a zebra crossing and the green man had told me I could go. The driver, who was very apologetic, simply hadn’t seen the red light.
Probably because he was a stranger in the area and was paying more attention to his sat-nav than to the real world around him.
His view of the lights may also have been obscured by a lorry that had pulled up almost on the crossing. It certainly obscured the van from me, and me from the van, until the nearly fatal last moment.
And why was the lorry there? Because its driver had stopped to make or take a phone call.
Using a phone at the wheel is a scarily common act of madness. And, though illegal, it’s back on the rise, as a recent survey found.
We’ve all seen dreadful driving by drivers whose minds and hands were on their phones instead of on the road and the wheel.
I had to take emergency action the other day to avoid a chap who suddenly veered across lanes while texting. He probably never knew how close he came to a high-speed crash.
The common advice is to stop and pull over if you need to use the phone. But that has its drawbacks too.
That truck at the zebra crossing wasn’t the first time I’ve seen people stopped in silly or dangerous places to have a chat. We’ve all seen numerous examples of that too.
The only sensible thing to do with your phone while driving is to turn it off – or pass it over to a passenger.
The hands-free set is legal, and supposed to be safer than the hand-held mobile. But I worry about the whole culture of in-car phones, sat-nav and entertainment systems.
I fear it’s led drivers to forget they’re in charge of heavy, powerful, fast-moving lumps of deadly metal.
I had to take extra care on the A12 recently to steer round an erratically driven Mercedes 4x4. The woman at the controls was unfolding a large map in front of her as she went.
But even that wasn’t the craziest thing I’ve seen lately.
On the very day the Transport Research Laboratory revealed their latest figures on phone misuse, I was again waiting to cross that same zebra crossing I mentioned.
This time I was taking no chances. Even though the lights were in my favour, I watched the approaching truck rumble past before I stepped off the kerb.
It was moving slowly. Slowly enough for me to see the make of the laptop computer that the driver was using, balanced on his steering-wheel.

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