One of the best things about living in Oak Park is how easy it is to get around by bike and on foot. Everything I need is within about a mile and a half from my house: two train lines, the library, grocery store, restaurants, shoppin. And what makes it better is that it's laid out on a grid so that I rarely have to be on a busy street to get somewhere. However (you knew this was coming), there are a whole lot of bad driver behaviors that threaten me and people like me: people who choose to forgo the car and walk or bike.
So, I've compiled a list of what I consider to be the most dangerous infractions out there and I'm begging you to take a close look at what you do when you get behind the wheel. It's very tempting to think you are the best driver out there and don't do these things, or believe that the rules don't apply to you. But believe me when I say you do and they do. And this is about saving people's lives, not just being polite.
Drive the speed limit.
Most people believe the speed limit is an annoyance, in effect only to make them late for things. But the faster you are going, the more likely it is you are going to completely miss something important, like a kid running into the street to catch a ball. We all make mistakes, especially kids. So we need to do things to protect the most vulnerable in our society. At 40 miles an hour, you need 190 feet to come to a complete stop. At 25 miles an hour, you need 90 feet to stop. That is a big difference.
Please remember that missing the first ten minutes of a movie or getting your child to gymnastics late is not life or death. Speeding very well may be.
Make a complete stop at stop signs, behind the stop bar (the thick white line before you get to the crosswalk) and a complete stop before coming out of an alley.
The norm is to slow down, quickly look for oncoming vehicles and then keep on going. The problem with the quick glance is that you're looking at the street for big things, instead of checking out the sidewalks for little things (like people). Or looking closely at the street to make sure a bicyclist isn't pedaling your way.
A recent national study found that 45 percent of drivers do not make a complete stop at stop signs. Seven percent of drivers don't even slow down. This is seriously appalling, again not just for the law breaking, but for the complete lack of respect for the lives of others.
When turning left or right at an intersection, slow down and look for pedestrians in the crosswalks or for on-coming cyclists.
In an effort to get wherever it is you're going in the timeliest manner possible, you may believe its okay to ignore that law about peds having the right of way in the crosswalk, or just forget to look for them. I know this, because I am frequently a victim of this oversight. The most common response to my "Hey!" is, "I didn't see you." While it's tempting for me to believe I move so fast that I can missed by the human eye, I know this isn't the case. What's more likely is that the driver wasn't looking for anything under two tons.
To get a feeling for what its like to be a pedestrian or a bicyclist dealing with traffic, try it out. Leave the car in the garage and walk to the video store or ride your bike for that gallon of milk. It feels really good. You may decide to leave the car at home more often. You may believe you are too busy, too pressed for time to walk or bike. But I promise, it's not as hard as it seems. If you do decide to get behind the wheel, please remember that driving is a privilege, not a right. And with that privilege comes the responsibility to share the road with all of the users out there in a safe and polite way.
Want to officially make an oath to drive more safely and conscientiously (just in time for the New Year)? Take the Driver's Pledge at www.biketraffic.org. Help your community become a better, safer, nicer place to walk and bike?#34;and live.