To be safe on roads, expect the unexpected


May 18, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IF THERE'S ONE unwritten rule of the road, it's that anything can happen, anytime, anywhere. As drivers, we have to be prepared for the unexpected, which is what Andy Levine encountered on his way to work recently. He credits cautious driving and a fair amount of luck for bringing him through safely.

"I was driving southbound on [U.S.] 29 between Route 216 and Route 198. It was about 9:30 [a.m.] and traffic was light. There was an older Honda Civic wagon a few car lengths in front of me in the left lane with a ladder tied to the roof," he said.

"The car moved to the right lane and in doing so I noticed the ladder turn 90 degrees so that it was now perpendicular to the road. Knowing something was not right, I started to brake. This was lucky because the ladder then came off the roof of the car and fell to the ground.

"It was also fortuitous that the section I was driving on had a shoulder, as I had to pull onto the shoulder to avoid the ladder. The people behind me were also paying attention, so they avoided rear-ending me. It helped that I started to brake so that I didn't have to slam on my brakes when the ladder fell, but the drivers behind me helped by also being cautious.

"You have to be prepared for anything when you drive. I implore those drivers that need to haul items on their roofs to make sure they secure them properly."

My husband and I encountered a similar situation as we were driving on Interstate 895 recently. A pickup truck loaded with brush was steadily depositing bits of its load on the highway behind it. It was with relief that we passed the pickup.

I also have seen mattresses fly off car roofs, furniture piled up precariously in the back of pickups or hanging out of minivans, and lawn equipment about to dislodge and spill out of trailers.

If you see a load about to unload, report the situation to the police. I believe that it is an emergency, so treat it that way. Honking at the driver of the offending vehicle or waving (not obscenely) at them to direct their attention to their faltering load is also appropriate and might help prevent an accident.

When I wrote about red-light cameras two weeks ago, I knew I'd hear from someone who hated them as much as I love them. And I predicted correctly: Josh Jackson's e-mail showed up in my inbox the same day.

"Is this not the United States?" he said. "Are we not living in a free country? If people wish to endanger themselves, then they should be able to do so. Driving school taught us to look both ways before proceeding as the light turns from red to green. I do that to protect myself. If someone wants to risk running the light, then they should be able to do so.

"How can one fight the camera? What if it was some type of emergency, which caused the driver to run the light? A police officer who enforced this law would be able to decide on whether or not to ticket the offender. ... And no, I've never been caught by one, but yes, I have had to pay for one. If someone else is driving your car, you must pay if they run the light. How is that fair? A police officer would ticket the driver, not the owner of the car. Has Jody ever paid for a friend's ticket because she has loaned her car?"

There are several errors in his arguments, but I'm running out of room, so I'll summarize: People can endanger themselves until the cows come home - in their homes. But once they get behind the wheel, their actions can potentially endanger others. So no, drivers don't have the right to run red lights. Drivers who habitually run red lights should have their licenses revoked.

Driving is a privilege, not an entitlement. If following the law restricts you too much, then walk.

Emergencies are no excuse for driving recklessly.

Staying alive is a very precious freedom. I'd rather have fewer accidents and more considerate drivers overall.

I don't lend my car to drivers likely to run a red light. But if I did, and they did, I'd just pay the ticket and thank my lucky stars they didn't kill anyone while they were driving my car.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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