Amblin' Alameda: Accident and aftermath

Amblin' Alameda: Accident and aftermath

Morton Chalfy

I witnessed an accident on Santa Clara Avenue, and the image has haunted me for two weeks. On my way home from the dentist's office on Santa Clara, I stopped to honor the crossing guard's signal to allow a woman to cross the broad avenue - or attempt to cross it, anyway.

As she stepped into the crosswalk, a car began to make a left turn into the intersection and before anyone could stop it, she hit the woman crossing the street. I believe the car struck the pedestrian's hip, but whatever the point of impact it sent the pedestrian into an aerial cartwheel, turning her almost completely over in the air before she hit the ground with a thump.

I parked and rushed over, but not before one of the crossing guards was bent over asking the victim how she was while the other guard got the police department on the phone. The driver also pulled over, clearly distraught and repeating "I didn't see her," in sorrowful and amazed tones.

For days afterward, especially while I was driving, I had flashbacks to the scene of the person's body spinning in the air and feelings of revulsion that made me shudder at the thought.

It is easy to believe the driver when she said "I didn't see her," by scrutinizing the setup of cars today. Our side mounted mirrors have grown over the years to be ornamental adjuncts to the "look" of the car and their increased size definitely impedes visibility when making a turn. They are so large that they can obscure a full-sized person from across the street, let alone a child or smaller person. In my mind, this was not an accident caused by speeding or reckless driving but by poorly designed visibility features.

We are so accustomed to multitasking these days that the importance of hyper-attention when driving gets lost. It's also lost in the comfort of the car, the ordinarily predictable way things go when driving and the sort of rote state of mind that driving induces. We can usually drive while using only a fraction of our minds to pay attention, the actions having long since been learned deep into our muscle memory.

Driving, as we all know intellectually, is a life or death activity and demands total concentration. On the other hand once learned, a lot of driving is automatic, which belies its inherent dangers.

Past experience teaches that no amount of admonition to pay attention will prevent all accidents. Better design prevents many, but I'm waiting for the majority of cars to be computer controlled drive themselves vehicles before we get close to eliminating accidents. This particular one could have been prevented with an "obstacle detecting" radar which would beep and put on the brakes.

The victim didn't seem to be badly hurt beyond bruising and shock. The injury to my psyche seeing her fly through the air felt like it was nearly as bad. A hard lesson in paying attention.

Comments

Submitted by Mike Rossi (not verified) on Tue, Apr 28, 2015

I believe, for most cars at least, it is the posts on either side of the windshield that are the culprit. Mirrors are usually low, and the increased rear view is considerable. The posts are at eye level and have grown to accommodate air bags. I have on many occasions found pedestrians to be obscured by them.

Submitted by Art (not verified) on Fri, May 1, 2015

True. I now lean to view around the "A" pillar flanking the windshield.

Submitted by Kyle Hansen (not verified) on Mon, May 4, 2015

They make small round accent mirrors that fill in those gaps. I use them on both of my vehicles.