Bad driving is universal

Weekender, Gravenhurst, Feb. 7, 2003
Dear Editor:

We have bears, cougars, rattlesnakes and other potentially deadly wildlife. But the biggest killer of humans, says Arthur Black, is also the least feared and the gentlest of creatures — deer. They kill us, as they kill themselves, by stepping in front of passing cars.

In the mid-80s I saw a car hit a deer on a side road in Aurora. The animal was standing at the edge of the road as two cars approached. The second car was mine. The driver in front of me slowed, and I stayed well back of him.

As we drew near, at a very moderate speed, the deer did not move at all, appearing to look across the road, seemingly unaware of danger.

The hit was not a sudden event. From first sighting to the actual incident, perhaps 10 seconds went by; that's a long time to prepare in the driving environment. A long, long time. Any idiot should be able to manage it, one would think.

What do I need to do now to avoid hitting that animal? Take your time. No panic.

The driver in front was responding. His brakes were on right up till the moment of impact. He could easily have stopped. He had time. He had space. And the deer was not moving. It just stood there looking across the road. The deer’s timing was perfect. At the last instant it strode into the roadway. The driver tried to stop. He did stop. But not quite soon enough. He struck the animal broadside, knocking it over. The deer got to its feet, bounded over a fence and made off into a farmer’s field.

I watched from my position, about six car lengths behind. The driver, no doubt feeling justifiably inept and stupid, perhaps shaken, got out of his car and went over to the fence, looking away to where the deer had vanished. I waited till he got back in and drove off.

What did this guy do wrong? Was he treating another species as if it were human? The deer is not moving. The deer is waiting for me. The deer is going to wait until I get by.

What should he have done? Stop and wait? Toot the horn? What if there had been other cars approaching? Would the other drivers have been prepared? To stop if necessary? If he had tried to signal them, would they have understood? Would they have given the deer some space and time to decide where it wanted to go?

What if it happened on the freeway?

When I moved from Aurora to Muskoka, just over a year ago, I wrote a humorous letter to the papers, in which I upbraided Muskokans for not being up-to-date on the bad driving scourge that has overtaken Toronto. Muskokans, I said, still had these quaint habits, such as letting the pedestrian go first.

Well, Muskokans do have some manners left, sometimes. But they are not unsmitten. They have their own style of mindless compulsive scurrying.

One example. This past fall I drove to Milford Bay several times, religiously obeying the speed limit and mindful that there were deer about. There are signs posted along the way — Deer wintering area — and I had seen several deer on previous occasions.

I remembered people telling me about their collisions with deer: I couldn't help it. It was in front of me all of a sudden.

For each of my Milford Bay drives, I had a string of impatient drivers behind me. Some of them passed. Others remained behind, perhaps not wanting to take risks just to go five or 10 km faster. On the last of these drives, as I turned off for Milford Bay, the driver of the vehicle behind gave me one short honk. I’m sure that driver was speaking for everyone else in the convoy: How dare you hold up the crowd!

And that’s where it’s at. Bad driving is the new universal norm, recognized as such by the gurus of contemporary driving culture. In this context, my good driving was abnormal and worthy of rebuke.

As Arthur Black; says, the most dangerous animal on the continent is the monkey behind the wheel.

Wendel Messer, Gravenhurst
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