Aren't All Intersections Dangerous?
This column was prompted by Sunday's front-page article about dangerous intersections.
The violent crush of metal against metal. The speed with which it happened. The shock masking pain.
Anybody who has survived a serious car accident carries scars. Not all are visible, or heal.
For that reason, all intersections are dangerous - although the head-on crash I experienced happened on a two-lane road country, on a sunny spring afternoon. Since then, the way I drive has changed - although I was not driving the SUV hit by an undocumented, unlicensed, unrestrained, minimally insured young man whose blood alcohol measured double the legal limit two hours after the crash, according to the police report.
Both cars were demolished. The drunk driver was not injured and disappeared before court proceedings. My ankle was shattered; the friend who was driving died months later when the trauma she sustained in the crash exacerbated an existing illness.
I've always been a competent driver. My mother didn't care for highway travel. So when I turned 16, she handed me the keys to our stick-shift Studebaker. I've driven on freeways, expressways, turnpikes and rutted dirt roads. I've driven the streets of Boston (horrible!), New York and other big, confusing, impatient cities. Snow and ice were constants in New England and Canada.
I've gotten parking tickets and warnings, but never a moving violation.
But now I'm frightened. If an approaching car shimmies even slightly, I panic, predicting the sound the doctor says damaged my ears - unless cicadas really have taken up residence there. I expect a sideswipe at each merge. I signal lane changes compulsively. I will never again pass on a two-lane road.
Therefore, the concept of a dangerous intersection puzzles me, just as I am horrified by red-light jumpers. If you see a poisonous snake ahead in the path, do you run at it, poke it with a stick, chase it? Or do you slow down and carefully avoid confrontation?
An intersection is like that snake: coiled, potentially deadly. But at least an intersection doesn't slither out of the grass across the path of motorists. You know it's there, what the risks are and how to avoid them.
Still, that yellow light is so tempting. Wouldn't this be a good place to zip around a slow-moving car? Surely, a stop sign doesn't mean stop if you're in a hurry. And solid lines in a traffic circle can be crossed if there's not much traffic, right?
I'll concede this: Some intersections (and other highway configurations) seem designed by a hyperactive second-grader. Traffic lights aren't in sync. Turn lanes could be better marked. All the more reason to be on guard, especially merging, given that most cars still have blind spots.
Because the intersection itself isn't the danger. The danger is how you navigate it. If I sound like an old fuddy-duddy - good. That means you've been lucky, so far. That means you never experienced the deafening clash of steel, or heard a first responder say, "Lady, when I saw that mangled car lying on its side in the ditch, I never thought we'd find anybody alive inside."
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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