I've never had a serious accident in my twelve years of self-propelled locomotion, getting into far more trouble the rare times when I've had a car than during the many when I've relied on foot and pedal to get me around. I like to credit this to experience and skill, but I've recently been made rudely aware that my fortune is probably just rooted in damned good luck.
Yesterday during our morning walk, Linus got clipped by a car. We were waiting at a crosswalk for the light to turn green, Linus sitting automatically as he's been trained to do. The light changed, we stepped off the sidewalk, and a car zoomed out of the lane on our left and turned toward the spot where we were standing. I yelled and jumped out of the way and Linus mostly followed me, but not before the speeding vehicle smacked him on the hip and pushed him toward me.
I couldn't move, trapped by fury, shock, disbelief and post-crisis "what if" horror. The driver barely checked his speed--and perhaps his rear-view mirror--before tearing toward the next traffic light. Which was red.
If I'd had more presence of mind, I'd have punched the car, chased it down, gotten the license number... something. I will spend many days reliving that awful handful of seconds, regretting my paralysis. How can anyone be so stupid, cruel, unaware?
It didn't stop there. We took three more steps into the intersection and a car from the opposite lane took a left turn toward us, nearly hitting us before my wild gesticulations caught the driver's attention.
When we got home, I said a lengthy prayer of thanks over my oatmeal that these two moments, so blind and thoughtless, had not (as they so easily could have) tipped over the edge of tragedy.
Later as I biked to work (riding like a car in traffic as I've been taught to do by many a mentor), I nearly T-boned a driver who took a left turn into my path.
And then today, I was the one who got clipped: a driver sitting behind me at a red light wanted to turn right. Rather than waiting the extra millisecond to let me continue riding straight across the intersection, she zoomed around me and turned into my path without warning. Again I barely avoided injury, escaping with an audible THUMP of my wheel into her door and several undignified wobbles.
Here's the thing: this driver knew I was there--we made eye contact in the moment before collision. Did she think that my bike wasn't in motion, that I was also turning right... or that I didn't belong on the road and it was her job to "teach me a lesson"? I've encountered drivers like that before, particularly along Florida Avenue, one of the main roads in my neighborhood. It's that rage and easy destructiveness that makes me worry about cycling on the streets--and it's also why I don't own a car myself. I can never sidestep the reality that getting behind the wheel of a car instantly gives me possession of a deadly weapon.
So, if you drive a car, I'm begging you: please, please, please watch out. There are mothers and children, cyclists and runners and cute puppies with loyal Internet followings out there. If you ever have an accident, no matter whose fault it was, you will likely walk away and the pedestrian/cyclist/puppy will not. It won't be fair, but that's how it will happen.
It's that simple.