Learn Defensive Walking from Defensive Driving

Posted 10 March 2014 by Jim Lantern in Norman Oklahoma

I turned age 15 on 5 March 1971. The first Sunday afternoon after the last day of school, my stepfather took me in his car out to a remote location where he taught me how to drive. Soon after that, I took the summer Driver’s Education course at Wichita High School Southeast. That course spent one class session on the subject of Defensive Driving, teaching it by having students watch a video about that subject. I only remember one example from that video. A driver in a car was driving down a remote narrow road, which had a line of tall narrow trees along the right side. The trees prevented the driver from being able to see the entrance to a private driveway coming up on his right. The only indication of a private driveway entrance was the mailbox by the side of the road. Defensive Driving, in that situation, means to be prepared for the unexpected . . . someone living there driving out of the driveway onto the road without slowing down or stopping to look out for oncoming traffic . . . so one crashes into the other. Defensive Driving means the driver on the road should slow down enough to be able to quickly stop if a car suddenly departs from that private driveway – being driven by a driver suffering from Head Up Rear.

My stepfather taught me something special about Defensive Driving not taught in the public school’s Defensive Driving course. What I learned from him has saved my life over a hundred times since then. He taught me to look at the faces of drivers who might or will cross my path. Not just as a driver of a car, but when on a motorcycle or on a bicycle, as well as when I’d be out walking somewhere. Is the driver looking where he or she is going? Does the driver see me? Here’s a couple of examples of real events I experienced. Both happened on the same street, East Harry in Wichita Kansas…

Example 1: I was driving a company pickup truck with a coworker in the passenger seat. We were headed west. I stopped to make a left turn into the parking lot of a business, and was waiting for an opening in eastbound traffic. At that location along East Harry, the street is just one lane in both directions, with deep ditches on both sides and no shoulder space, which is extremely dangerous. If you have to quickly get off of the street, there is no where to go but to crash down into the deep ditch. As I was watching for an opening to make my turn, I looked in the side rearview mirror. I could see a fully loaded dumptruck coming up behind me, clearly exceeding the speed limit. I could clearly see the driver was not looking forward. He was looking to his left. He was not slowing down. He did not see the sign for the lower speed limit along that narrow section of the street. He did not see the pickup truck I was driving stopped to make a left turn. A fully loaded dumptruck was about to crash into the back of the pickup truck at about 50 miles per hour! “Oh, shit! Hang on!” I shouted to my passenger. I stomped on the gas pedal to accelerate as fast as possible. Still too many eastbound cars to turn left, and the truck would be wrecked if I had to go into the deep ditch – but of course it would have been obliterated if hit by the dumptruck. Just lucky the truck was able to accelerate fast enough and able to reach the point where the street widens back into 4 lanes – 2 lanes in both directions. As I reached that point and jerked the truck into the right lane, the dumptruck came by and ripped off the side rearview mirror of the pickup truck. It was that close. He then ran the red light of the next intersection as he was looking in his rearview mirror to see what he hit as he passed me. If he had hit the truck I was driving, then it would have been a closed casket funeral for me and my passenger.

Example 2: Same pickup truck, different passenger, and again headed west on East Harry. I was stopped at a red light at the intersection of Highway K-15. I could see an 18-wheeler truck headed north – coming from my left. I could see it was exceeding the speed limit and that the driver did not see the speed limit sign where the speed is reduced before reaching that intersection. He was looking down at something to his right apparently on the seat. The light turned green. I waited. Just a second later, a car behind me started honking. My passenger said “Go already! The light is green!” I replied, “Not yet. You’ll see why.” Then the 18-wheeler ran the red light at about 50 miles per hour. If I had gone on green, then it would have been a closed casket funeral for me and my passenger. I had crossed paths with another Head Up Rear driver not looking where he was going and exceeding the speed limit.

Watch their faces! Are they looking where they are going? Do they see you? What I learned from my stepfather about Defensive Driving has saved my life well over a hundred times so far, me now at age 58. Not just while driving cars or trucks, but also motorcycles and bicycles, as well as when I’ve been out walking as a pedestrian. Many times as I was about to cross at a crosswalk at an intersection, a car on my left turning right across my path did not stop, as the driver was looking left instead of right. Also cars from the opposite direction looking right while turning left. If I had stepped out on the Walk light, I’d have been run over. Same for when I’ve be on my bicycle. I’ve seen many bicycle riders here in Norman Oklahoma never even slow down, never even looking left and right, as they ride at top speed through a stop sign at an intersection, and sometimes only slow down for a red light. That has been true especially with foreign students attending Oklahoma University. It is as if they are daring the drivers of cars to hit them.

As a bicycle rider, I especially hate it when joggers are in what may be referred to as the bicycle lane here in Norman Oklahoma. I’m headed west along the side of the street. The jogger is headed east along the same side. They do that, and are advised to do that, so that they can see if a car might be about to hit them so they can get out of the way. I guess that would be referred to as defensive jogging. Many joggers have been hit and killed by drivers of cars coming up from behind the joggers, too close to the side of the street, and then ran over the joggers. What bugs me is when the joggers jog out in the street like that when there is a perfectly good sidewalk for them to jog on. What bugs me the most, which is very dangerous, is when joggers like to “play chicken” with bicycle riders. There was one time when I was headed south, and a jogger headed north on the same side of the street would not get out of the way. A foreign student. She would not step up onto the grass. There was a lot of traffic on my left. I had nowhere to go. I had to use my bicycle brakes to come to a complete stop to avoid hitting her. Face to face, she spoke in a foreign language, which sounded to me like angry foul language. She still refused to get off of the street to get out of my way. Then a break in traffic made it possible for me to go around her. As it was, there was not enough space on the side for a jogger and a bicycle rider side-by-side between traffic and the side of the street. As is, I came close to being run over because of her. I’ve since then encountered many joggers who refuse to get out of the way. If I were driving a car, instead of on a bicycle, then they surely would have stepped out of the way up onto the grass and off of the street.

I’ve never been in an accident as a driver, except one time while third car back stopped at a red light. On my right there was diagonal parking spaces for cars. A car parked to my right abruptly backed up and crashed into the right side of my pickup truck. The driver was an 81-year-old lady, whose license had expired about 20 yeas ago. I didn’t see that one coming, and had nowhere to escape to even if I had.

I’ve never had any speeding tickets within city limits. I’ve only had two speeding tickets, both during 1976 at age 20, while out on a highway. One was deserved. The other was not. The undeserved ticket happened as result of hills – even though I had speed set on 55 miles per hour, the car went up to 5 mph faster downhill, 5 mph slower uphill. I should have set it for 50 mph. Knowing people make that mistake, a highway patrol officer sat hidden from a good viewing point at the bottom of a hill. So he got me for going about 58 mph in the 55 mph limit area. He acted like an angry bully when he gave me the ticket. I got out of that one, and he got reassigned. The deserved ticket happened when I was driving my new Porsche 914 back to Wichita from Newton Kansas. I’d never had it in 5th gear, and only in 4th for highway driving. It was a Sunday morning when most people were in church or still asleep. I did not see any cars along the stretch of highway I was on, at that moment. So I decided to find out just how fast that car could go. A friend had been pestering me to do that. So I finally did. The speed limit there then was 55 mph. At 111 mph – yes, one hundred and eleven mils per hour and still accelerating, I eventually passed the only car along that stretch of highway. It was blue. Dark blue. It was a partly unmarked highway patrol car with its flashing lights on the inside instead of outside like most highway patrol cars. There was a small emblem sign on the driver side door, but I went by too fast to read it. I took a “Speed Reading” course during college, but it didn’t help with that. Looking in my rearview mirror, at first not certain it was a highway patrol car, I then saw the red flashing lights come on inside the windshield of that car. It took me some distance to stop. I pulled over and stopped, got out and sat on the hood of the Porsche 914 while I waited for him to arrive about a long 30 seconds later. He stopped behind me, got out, and approached me with a great big grin on his face. He said to me, “I was just going along at a measly fifty-five miles per hour, when suddenly there was a whooshing sound and a flash of silver! I thought maybe it was a U-F-O came in for a landing on the highway! I’m really happy you pulled over to wait for me. You might have escaped if you had turned off on the exit back there a ways and gone down in a different direction where I might not have found you. Come back and sit in my car so we can have a conversation.” It turned out he was also the owner of a Porsche, which he had modified for racing. Also, he knew of a safe location where there is a road I can legally test the speed of my Porsche. I was clocked at 56 mph over the 55 mph speed limit at 111 mph. He could have taken my car and license, and taken me to jail – for a very long time. Instead, he wrote the ticket for 19 mph over the limit, so he would not have to do all that. I had a ticket to pay, and did pay it, but he really let me go with just a friendly warning. By the way, his wife became manager of the apartments complex where I lived. Small world.

I was a motorcycle rider from age 14 to age 24. I was first licensed to ride it on the street at age 15 with a special permit to ride it between school and home, and between school and where I had a job, and between the job location and home. My first car was a very used VW Bug that was a gift to me from my stepfather on my 16th birthday. The job I had part time after school and on Saturdays, full time summers, paid for my first motorcycle. I started out on a Suzuki 125, and eventually upgraded to a Suzuki 400. Both were designed for off-road riding, but were also street legal. I loved going out on Sundays to do “trail riding” at remote locations with other riders. I was a member of BSA Explorer Post 770 for off-road motorcycle riding. I never got into racing, but loved “hill climbing” competition for which I modified the motorcycle. The most enjoyable and most dangerous riding was when I was on vacation in Colorado Springs and did some very narrow and steep trails riding in the very beautiful scenic mountains. Without doubt, it was the best time of my life. I’ve never enjoyed anything more than that since then. In a way, it was even better than having sex with a beautiful woman. Seriously. I only crashed one time. Never out on a trail, or on a street, but where a trail ended at a dead-end street. At that location, kids were hiding in the bushes, and had stretched a metal cable across the end of the trail. The kids raised it up just seconds before I got there. I saw the cable only soon enough to stand up on the footpegs so the cable would not hit my neck and take my head off. It took off the two rearview mirrors, then cut through my jacket and shirt to leave a cut on my chest and yanking me off of the motorcycle. I came to an abrupt stop, and the motorcycle kept going until it slowed down on the dead-end street and simply fell over on a side. My helmet was ripped off of my head as the cable rolled up from my chest and then went over my head. There were bruises from me landing on the pavement, but at least no broken bones. The kids who did that to me ran away real fast and were not identified. I recovered. The motorcycle was repaired. I continued riding for a few more years. Eventually I could no longer afford to keep the motorcycle and engage in off-road riding.

Now, I’m just a bicycle rider and pedestrian. I no longer can afford a car. I rarely use a city bus or a taxicab. The bicycle riding is good for my health as good exercise, and it is my primary transportation.

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