Many drivers are unaware of what it’s like to be on the road without a metal exoskeleton. Most days I walk our dogs down our rural 55 mph township road and I can tell you this — if you’re driving by you probably have no idea how we feel when you pass us.
Unless we hear you slow down and move way over, every car raises an unbidden sense of alarm. When you zip past you’re probably not aware you fling stones as you go by. A gust of wind also lifts in your wake, raising dust that gets in our eyes. My dogs shrink in fear. And really, we have no way of knowing that you’re not distracted while flipping to another track on your iPod or answering the phone.
Sometimes, when the fastest cars go by, I can’t help but think of writer Stephen King, who years ago was hit by a minivan while walking near his rural home. His injuries were so dire he had to be transported to a trauma center by helicopter. He sustained broken bones in his right leg, hip, and ribs plus a punctured lung and head injury –requiring five operations and many months away from work. The driver, who apologized for being too distracted, did not lose driving privileges or serve jail time.
A few years ago I was walking our elderly German shepherd and small dog in the late afternoon. We walked slowly because our dear old dog had spinal problems. The exercise was good for him but probably also brought him pain. A red pickup truck was speeding toward us. There are no berms on our road, only grassy ditches. One must trust that a driver will move over: there are no other options. So I trusted. Suddenly the shepherd jerked us to the side with such force that I fell right into the ditch, dogs along with me. I was yelling at him as we fell, shocked that he was misbehaving despite his pain. He wasn’t. Somehow he knew that driver wasn’t moving over. The red truck hurtled right over the portion of roadway we’d been on a second ago. Shaken, we pulled ourselves out to see the driver stop ahead and back up. “I’m sorry,” he yelled, “the sun was in my eyes and I couldn’t see you.” Yup, nearly a Stephen King moment.
My sons, as young as 14, have driven tractors from our property to acreage we’ve leased to grow hay. It’s not possible to drive a tractor at anything close to road speed, especially pulling haying implements or a loaded hay wagon, yet some drivers act as if slow-moving vehicles are some kind of personal insult. They honk, flip off, and steer crazily around tractors. I interviewed a farmer friend for an agricultural magazine a few years ago. He said the number one thing he wants non-farming people understand is that their driving endangers the very people who raise their food.
I mean to advocate for anyone on the road who is not in a car. Take my street as an example. Kids are sometimes out walking their 4-H animals; we’ve seen sheep, donkeys, goats, even a pig. Riders go by on horseback. Bicyclists enjoy our area for the scenery. There are also runners, walkers, and Amish buggies.
And let’s remember the people who must stand out on roads to perform their jobs including traffic cops, crossing guards, surveyors, garbage collectors, and road crews.
I have learned to slow way down and move fully into the other lane when I pass anyone out on the road. It’s kind. It’s safe. And it takes only a few seconds of your life to show some consideration. You may think you’re providing plenty of clearance when you move over a little but if you’re not fully in the other lane, you’re too close. You can’t control unexpected variables —-bikers might careen around an obstacle, runners might fall, horses may shy away into your path, dogs may pull out of their collars.
One of our dogs was found abandoned as a puppy, sick and wasted, with a wound on his side. Like any traumatized creature he still reacts to loud sounds with fear. On one of our walks a car’s approach was so loud that somehow he twisted out of his harness and darted into the path of the vehicle. I flung myself after him and thankfully got him out of the way in time, but I hope you’ll think of my dog and of me when you pass anyone on the road. You never know if we’ll end up right in front of you.