He was a runner. I was a driver in my SUV.
I inched my foot off the brake turning right on red at a busy south-end intersection during morning rush hour.
My car crept forward as I looked only over my left shoulder at the oncoming traffic and not right at the pedestrian crossing in front of me.
The runner, a man in his 60s, rapped on the hood and I gently came to a rest.
See what I did there?
My foot inched, the car crept. It all lends the impression I was whispering along, a mere butterfly in the morning breeze.
Which might be true, were I not wielding a nearly two-tonne steel-and-glass weapon in an urban space meant for sharing with far more crushable bikes and baby strollers and bodies.
How many of you have internally reeled off a similar series of guilt-curing descriptions of your driving close calls?
My excuses came to me immediately. First: I didn’t intend for that to happen, so I can’t be to blame.
Next: there was a street full of impatient drivers building up behind my car, so I had to move.
I was in a rush to get to my next task. I had two dogs in the car, plus a friend.
Did I mention I was running late?
Three or four whole minutes. Finally, and worst: he didn’t make eye contact. He should have made eye contact.
Those excuses were built in, near-intuitive, which is surprising, since I’ve driven for nigh-on to three decades without causing an accident; I haven’t ever needed to fabricate excuses.
Or maybe that’s actually what made my brain switch into automatic defence mode — I have a clean driving record, not even a warning for speeding. I don’t text and drive; I don’t drink and drive. Ergo, blameless.
Also surprising about my instinctive evasion (which, let’s face it, was borderline victim-blaming): I have been that runner, that walker.
The very next day at a marked intersection, I waited and waited for a driver to look my way before she turned right on red. She never did. I can’t even count the times I have nearly been hit walking through the crosswalks at the Halifax Commons roundabouts.
According to a May 2019 city report, for the first five months of this year, almost half of driver-pedestrian collisions involved vehicles turning and about half took place in crosswalks. So my experiences are spot-on.
There were 78 driver-pedestrian collisions reported in Halifax from January to May. But those are only the reported crashes. The bad ones. The peak time for an incident is 3 p.m. The peak day is Wednesday. The most common conditions? Clear and sunny.
Those facts make the accidents seem all the more random. All the more fluke-y. Blameless.
I pride myself on understanding the dangers of sharing the roads and responding with cautious driving. But maybe I’m kidding myself. Maybe we all are. Maybe we need to consider that we silently shed all culpability when we step into our climate-controlled, Bluetooth-connected, automatic-sunroof lairs.
I think it’s easy to pretend we’re all good drivers when we rarely see those critical moments when we are not — the unseen pedestrian waiting for us to turn right on red because they’re cautious and we never look, the cyclist for whom we mis-judge a metre’s clearance, the invisible crosswalk crosser that we just very nearly pummelled.
We don’t notice and just keep driving. Because we are in cars and we can.