Close call highlights need to focus


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Something told me to slam on my brakes. Hard.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/08/2015 (2852 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Something told me to slam on my brakes. Hard.

I had just picked up the BMW 228i Cabrio and was heading back to the paper when I stopped for a red light at Sherbrook Street and Broadway. After a moment, the light changed to green and, as has become normal, I paused ever so briefly to let what proved to be a straggler scoot through the red light.

Having let him go, I started to proceed. I think I may have just entered the first lane of the cross street when, before I even realized it, I slammed on the brakes. Sure enough, some eastbound bozo in a minivan blew right through the red light. He was in the second lane, going from my left to right.

A t-bone crash can be fatal for the driver, as this one was in Orange County, Calif.
A t-bone crash can be fatal for the driver, as this one was in Orange County, Calif.

He can’t even claim he was just trying to beat the yellow (not that such would have made it all right), because the red had been up for at least two seconds.

I threw up my hands in amazement. The guy in the white Ram on my left, who stopped and who the guy in the minivan blew by, did a face-palm. A pedestrian, who had also begun to enter the intersection, shook her head.

What made it all the more interesting was that from where I was stopped, and from where I had started, if I had proceeded normally, I wouldn’t have been able to see the minivan until he was smashing into my driver-side door.

It’s kind of creepy. Almost like “the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition.” Rod Serling, I’m channelling you.

My best guess is that with the top down, I either picked up something in my peripheral vision my subconscious processed but my conscious did not or, on another subconscious level, there was something about the sound of an oncoming vehicle that just didn’t seem right.

Reflexes operate on the subconscious level, so invoking Occam’s Razor, I’m going with either of those.

Because it was a reflex, I can’t say it’s an example of paying attention. But I think it is an example of remaining focused on the task of driving.

Too often, we see examples of people who think driving is that thing that happens while you chat with friends in the car or plan your trip to the beach. Or it’s an inconvenient delay in the journey towards an activity.

We can’t let ourselves lose sight of the fact we are in control of 2,000 kilograms of steel and glass hurtling across the earth at 27.7 metres per second (assuming 100 km/h).

What would have happened if, instead of focusing on the task of leaving the stop line, I was trying to change the radio station or looking at a passenger as I tried to make a point in discussion?

Does making this point make me a driving killjoy? Why would it?

Does an archer, focusing on the task of delivering arrow to target, enjoy archery any less? Does a windsurfer, focusing on the task of keeping the sailboard upright, enjoy windsurfing any less?

The difference is we’ve been trained to realize archery and windsurfing, and any number of other activities we take seriously, take concentration. Focus. The majority of our mental capacity.

We haven’t been trained to take driving seriously. We’re told that if we get the driving examiner safely around a quiet neighbourhood and demonstrate our parallel parking prowess (as if that has ever saved a life), we’re good to drive. We’ve been licensed. By the government. What can go wrong? It isn’t until a crash or a close call most drivers realize how little they really know.

I’m a big advocate of advanced driver training. But Brett Goodman, owner and chief instructor of the Bridgestone Racing Academy, put it best when he said an attitude adjustment is a critical prerequisite to advanced training.

“The most important item to be in place long before the application of any high level of car control is the mindset of advanced risk management,” he said. “Which hopefully will have the car control part of advanced training go unused.”

In other words, learning to manage risk will make facing risk less likely.

“You could call this the ‘Performance Thinking’ part of advanced driver training,” Goodman wrote in an email.

Meantime, as I write this, I’m still happily tooling around in this BMW droptop, since we both survived unscathed. If the guy in the minivan had been focused on driving, assuming he cared, he’d have stopped.

Shortly after the near-miss, maybe all of one block, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw a cop car. “Hey buddy,” I thought, “where were you a minute ago?”

Kelly Taylor

Kelly Taylor
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter

Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.

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