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Pedestrians mere speed bumps in Manteca

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POSTED November 30, 2009 2:00 a.m.

Forget grandmother getting run over by a reindeer.

In this town, she’s more than likely to get mowed down by a moron yakking on the phone in a Dodge mini-van rolling through a stop sign at Fremont Avenue and North Street.

No disrespect to people who illegally use hand-held cell phones when they drive. But you need to think twice about whether you are indeed capable of driving and using the cell phone at the same time.

Nobody gives 100 percent attention to driving. It just doesn’t happen. Either they’re talking with someone else in the car or they may be thinking of something else. To assume anyone is 100 percent concentrating on driving when they’re behind the wheel is a fantasy. But to get it to the point where a significant amount of your attention and ability to react is tied up in an intense conversation with someone on a cell phone as you drive, you really need to get a grip.

What happened Saturday made my heart stop. I was stopped northbound on Fremont when an elderly woman entered the crosswalk on North Street from the northeast corner of the intersection. It was clear for me to go but I noticed a mini-van that had been approaching the intersection as if it were preparing to stop not looking like it would.

The driver was in what appeared to be an intense cell phone conversation as she did a California rolling stop startling the woman crossing the street who was perhaps two steps away from planting her nose in the side of the van.

The driver kept going and didn’t even appear to have seen the woman at all.

The woman in the crosswalk didn’t just step off the curb and start walking. She had looked both ways at a four-way stop sign.

But the inattention of drivers is something that can be tricky to gauge.

Add visual problems such as high profile vehicles blocking or obstructing your view and you’ve got potential for problems.

It is one thing when the other person who may get caught in a bad combination of inattention and poor driving habits is in another vehicle wrapped in a ton or so of steel with air bags. It is another story when it is a pedestrian.

Earlier in the week, I found myself misjudging the speed of traffic on East Alameda while trying to make a left turn from Fremont.

Actually, it was a tad bit of impatience on my part that was the problem. There was a high profile SUV parked on the street partially blocking my view to the right and a parked pickup truck with a camper with jacked up four-wheel drive suspension partially obscuring my view of traffic to the left.

Several vehicles had passed when I thought it was clear to start turning left. Just as I started to pull out slowly, a small sports car that I hadn’t seen popped into my view from the right.

I hit the brakes. The driver - who was probably going a bit fast - slowed down. If she was exceeding the speed limit, it wasn’t by much. For my part, I should have hesitated another second to absolutely make sure there were no cars coming because I was well aware of the visual problems of seeing traffic.

The point of all of this is simple. It isn’t a perfect world out there. Streets are only as safe as we make them. There is no such thing as an unsafe street. The real issue is how they are negotiated. If conditions warrant a slower speed - rain, fog, parked vehicles blocking views, congestion or whatever it may be - speed and driving habits should be adjusted accordingly.

The driver in the sports car did just that. And so did I. Both of us were doing things that weren’t kosher for the conditions. The end result, though, was we both did the right thing. Had she continued speeding ever so slightly and if I had acted like Starsky & Hutch pulling out of the intersection there could have been an accident or at least a nasty near miss.

Driving requires constant assessment and reaction to ever changing situations involving other people’s actions. Tossing intense conversations on a cell phone into the mix could very easily send someone’s grandmother to the hospital with a bunch of broken bones.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com


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