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Dear cyclists and pedestrians: sometimes it's your fault

I would be a better driver if only you were a better pedestrian.

If only you would obey those same traffic lights you accuse me of never obeying. I respect you as a walker; heck, I'm a walker much of the time, too. But if you hop off the curb against an advanced green signal for turns, or jaywalk in heavy traffic, you disrupt the flow of traffic long after you've trundled on your way. I obey walk signals, so please obey don't walk signals. We may be doing different dances, but we're all in the same dance hall.

You'd be a better pedestrian if you paid attention. I know going for a walk or rushing to work on foot is a different experience for you, battling the elements, than it is for me cocooned in comfort. I should help you navigate safely by not running red lights or coming so close to you that you get soaked by that puddle, and by understanding that you're perched on a snow bank because there is nowhere else for you to go. But if the only thing you're staring at is your phone, it's as bad as me doing the same thing. You need to be conscious of your surroundings. If texting and driving is deadly (and it is) so are people walking in traffic and texting.

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Please be responsible for your safety, and follow the traffic laws that I'm following.

I would be a better driver if only you were a better cyclist.

If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a cyclist blows off a stop sign and there is nobody around to see it, does it really matter? The correct answer to both questions is, for me, who cares? Motorists break way too many laws, in big and small ways, to ever get to harp on how many cyclists break. The rub? It's that whole "nobody around" part. If a cyclist comes up to an empty four-way stop – no pedestrians, no cars – a careful yield makes sense to me.

But if you're running red lights, if you're not visible at night, if you're riding on the sidewalk (and you're not five years old) or passing on the right, I have a problem. I want to know where you are and what you're about to do. You should want me to know that, too. I have airbags; you have spandex.

We are more likely to obey laws that make sense, but that would make the whole concept of law too bendy to be viable. There's a long-standing yield sign at a three-way intersection near my house. It makes sense; the neighbourhood is quiet, and everybody yields. We do it because we're happy we don't have to stop. I can think of many places a yield sign – if obeyed – would be perfect.

Eye-to-eye contact is a huge component of safety, especially when you mix motorists, pedestrians and cyclists together. All the laws, technology and training; none of it is as important as remembering that there is a person behind every one of those decisions being made. People are fallible; a little understanding goes a long way.

I would be a better driver if you were a better driver.

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When you consider the volume of traffic, the hugely disparate levels of training that drivers have, and the number of balls of rage driving many of those vehicles, it's surprising any of us get anywhere.

Everybody makes mistakes. With traffic dash-cam rage catching on, we're starting to be inundated by images of people making fatal, egregious, tiny and imagined errors.

I spoke with a colleague the other night who had a camera running as a tire blew on a transport just ahead of him on a U.S. highway. The resulting peel of compromised rubber, the alligator, took out most of his vehicle's front grille and lights. Catching it on camera meant that there would be no dispute with his insurance company. This is a useful reason to have a dash cam.

I also read online postings about people entering the wrong lane after a turn, someone doing a rolling stop, or someone merging clumsily. I see this as using the dash cam to become a self-elected traffic marshal, and you should stop driving around looking for nonsense. If police officers filling quotas makes you angry, vigilante citizen nannies are nearly as bad. Any driver determined to school other drivers is dangerous and, believe me, nobody likes you. Perhaps more importantly, nobody listens to you.

I can't tell you how to walk, bike or drive. But I am confident that we all want to get home safe and sound. Inattention or arrogance compromises that goal. I just want you – in a car, on a bike or afoot – to be boring and predictable.

Send your automotive maintenance and repair questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
Drive, She Said columnist

Lorraine Sommerfeld began writing when she was about to turn 40, because it was cheaper than a red convertible. Her weekly column Drive, She Said, while existing in the automobile section, is a nod to those of us who tend to turn the key rather than pop the hood. More

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