We talk so much about safety – vehicular safety, mostly – that we often have to remind ourselves of the factors that lead towards making our vehicles sage.
One of those factors is the human one.
Every day, I take the vehicles I wrote for on this site and elsewhere on the roads within and around the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. These vehicles are exposed to the traffic patterns and driving habits of human beings that range from the most conscious about safety to those who should not be on the roads at all.
Being among the general population exposes a lot of feedback about each vehicle and myself. I am not a perfect driver, but I know that I can control my vehicle away from danger and understand the dynamics of each vehicle to conclude its roadworthiness. It means testing the brakes in various real-world situations and putting on all of the new technology designed to keep me alive even if a situation arises. Understand that the situations I find myself in are not intentional. I rather avoid trouble than find myself in a precarious situation.
I do all of this in the name of vehicular evaluation and automotive journalism.
This work is risky business. There are days when I would be happy to be on the road, knowing how much I have a full grasp of a vehicle's capability to reward me with a huge smile on my face. Then, there were some days recently that I wished I never had.
Last Tuesday yielded one of two very scary moments behind the wheel.
As I was driving on a four-lane street in Edina, Minnesota from a coffeehouse to a lunch spot, another motorist who admitted to not paying attention, almost collided with one of the Hybrid SUVs I was working with. If it weren't for getting a quick sighting of the car coming off the stop sign – for the record, I was on a road without a stop sign at that intersection, you would not be reading this review. A quick maneuver away from the car (whom shall not be named for any purpose whatsoever), enabled the SUV to maintain balance without a rollover during the swerve action. It tracked away from the impending impact and stopped superbly without using the anti-lock brakes.
After seeing that there was no contact, damage or paint traded on either vehicle, my nerves temporarily calmed down. This near miss was a rare one as I felt my life flashing in front of me. A driver should never have to have such a reaction/response ever. One should never be at that point – ever.
Several days later, I had another close call in the same vehicle.
On a drive through the southwest part of Woodbury, Minnesota, I was making a routine left-hand turn at a signaled intersection going from south to east. On the yellow flashing left-hand signal, I saw a flash of a vehicle fly by the passenger side front fender coming from the eastbound lanes. He went through a red light into the intersection as I almost completed a legal left turn.
I knew what the other vehicle looked like, but it kept on going. I pulled off again to check the SUV for any impact. Again, I was OK. Everything was fine. As for me, I was very angry but needed to calm down. Two near misses in one week can do something to the psyche – equally to the stresses of the world around you.
Not to underplay these moments, but these two near misses were scary moments indeed. It could have happened with any other vehicle I worked with. It also points to how much SUVs have undertaken the need for optimized engineering towards enhanced handling in situations where safety was compromised.
Towards ensuring safety goals – including Volvo's claim towards no deaths behind the wheel of their newest vehicles by 2020 – we have to seek ways to help redevelop drivers on how to handle incidents with or without these new features. We have to help them understand the dynamics of their vehicle towards safety competency. This includes demonstrating the need for you to select a vehicle that will keep you safe at all times and the need to understand how to manage others using the roadways that are not paying attention to you. And, vice versa.
Tio reiterate: it is not much the vehicle, as it is the responsibility and the competency of the driver. A driver's license is a privilege. It also comes with responsibilities. When you are out there, please pay attention to what you are doing out on the road. Put the phone down and watch for vehicles having the right-of-way.
We can trust our vehicles to do anything for us. Just remember that engineering and active safety technology will not simply avoid accidents. You need to be engaged in the act of avoiding accidents. It takes a second to stay alive and sane.
Please be safe – for everyone's sake. For my sake, as well.
Photo by Randy Stern