I keep my head on a swivel when walking through a parking lot. I look for potential danger.
It's the same instinct that our prehistoric ancestors followed when making their way through perilous Mesolithic forests. They were wary of carnivorous beasts hungry for flesh. I am worried about distracted drivers too busy to care. In space, no one can hear you scream. In a parking lot, no one is paying any attention.
This fact was driven home once again last week when I was almost backed over by a guy who hadn't used his mirrors. A backover, by definition, occurs when a driver reverses into and injures or kills a pedestrian or a cyclist.
So close was my brush with the bumper that onlookers cried out in dismay as I intuitively leapt backward and adrenaline kicked in. My reaction was curious. Once the danger had passed, I stood there, with my arms spread in a shrug and said, "Really? Really?"
The driver was apologetic. What he could he say? He was completely in the wrong. The only thing greater than his guilt was his relief that he'd avoided the collision.
I could have laid into him, but what would have been the point? He knew what had happened. Besides, if I were being honest I would have to say that every driver on the road has, at one time or another, had a close call like this one, myself included.
The problem is that rather than learning from these near disasters, we just keep rolling obliviously along.
People treat parking lots as transitional spaces.
To some, it's not really driving. The slow speed creates a false sense of security. In Ontario, parking lots are considered private property and do not even fall under the Highway Traffic Act.
So the conversation that began in the store continues after we get behind the wheel. The phone call that was received as we left the restaurant continues as we put the key in the ignition. And almost without noticing, we press our foot on the gas pedal and we back up and, then and only then, does it occur to us – "Oh yeah, I'm driving a car and there are pedestrians everywhere."
Sadly, statistics bear this out. In 2016, the Illinois-based National Safety Council reported that up to two-thirds of motorists admit to being distracted while driving in shopping-centre parking lots and garages. One in five car accidents occur in parking lots. Each year, more than 50,000 crashes happen in parking lots and garages. These lead to more than 500 deaths and more than 60,000 injuries.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that each year in the United States, there are 18,000 injuries as a result of "backover" crashes. Those most likely to be seriously hurt are under the age of five and over the age of 70.
Surely, with such alarming statistics, much is being done to improve pedestrian safety?
It's pretty much "let the pedestrian beware." We have backover avoidance technology, such as back-up cameras, and Transport Canada has proposed making these mandatory, but too often we drivers use high-tech as an excuse to go low-responsibility.
In the meantime, I recommend a low-tech solution that can be implemented immediately. I call it the "ritual technology." Create a ritual you always perform before you start the car. Take a breath and remind yourself that you're driving. Then check your mirrors and then turn and check your perimeter. Make sure there are no pedestrians and if there are make sure you let them get clear.
If you don't take the time to do it right, stepping on the gas will get you nowhere fast.