How Quickly the Windshield Perspective Takes Hold

4515151706_fb048f2b22.jpgIt doesn’t take long to start thinking like a car. (Photo: Laura Conaway)

Over the weekend, I went to visit family in the high desert of Nevada and had to spend quite a bit of time behind the wheel — there’s simply no other way to get around. As a matter of fact, the main road through the town I was staying in is so dangerous that I decided I had to travel to the restaurant across the street from my hotel in the car — with an eight-year-old in tow, the six lanes of speeding traffic were just too unpredictable to hazard on foot.

Since I don’t usually drive, it was an opportunity to get a little windshield perspective. And as usual, the most disturbing part was how quickly I turned into a stressed-out driver who was focused on getting to where I needed to go, fast. It was the nasty transformation that Tom Vanderbilt writes about so well in Traffic.

The last hour or so in the car was particularly unpleasant, as we were trying to make a plane and hadn’t left ourselves enough time to drive across the sprawl of Las Vegas. I reminded myself over and over again as we drove down the huge arterials of that city that no flight was worth speeding for. The inconvenience of missing our connection was obviously not worth risking a crash.

But after only two days of car dependence, I was struggling to keep control of my emotions, and of my foot on the gas pedal. Spending your work life thinking about how cars change your psychology doesn’t inoculate you against the effects.

It does help, though. I drove the speed limit and refrained from making an illegal U-turn that would have been convenient precisely because I have been conditioned by my life as a pedestrian and biker, and by the education I’ve gotten writing for this blog, to understand the potential consequences of rash driving.

This morning on the Streetsblog Network, there’s a post from one of our newer network members about what can too easily happen when people haven’t experienced anything else but windshield perspective. Adventures of a Car-Less Valley Girl in Los Angeles writes:

What tends to anger me as much as frighten me is when I see indicating factors that a car accident has ended on the sidewalk, not on the road — already horrible in itself. I recently saw one of those new bus benches — thick, ridiculously heavy beige plastic — smashed to pieces, bent, and broken. The middle seat in particular was nowhere to be found.…

Cars are machines. They can be efficient modes of transportation, or they can be weapons. I have a feeling that if more people really and truly realized the power source behind the operating mechanisms (read: the general you) we would see a sizable percentage decrease in what are considered relatively avoidable "accidents". Let’s just face it head on: such accidents aren’t as much a result of oversight or being in the wrong place at the wrong time as much as they are a result of having been a f#$!%ing jerk. The sooner it is dealt with, the sooner they can be avoided.

By the way — we made our flight, and I managed not to drive like a f#$!%ing jerk. But it was a little bit scary to feel how easily I could become one.

More from around the network: Transit Miami on how the Rickenbacker Causeway is still a cyclist’s nightmare, three months after the tragic death of Christopher LeCanne. Free Public Transit reports on a successful free transit program for seniors in Australia. And Walkable Dallas-Fort Worth writes about graffitti as a livability indicator.