“Remember, the last thing on any driver’s mind right now is that you might be walking behind his or her car.” This is something I used to say to my three daughters when they were too short to be easily seen through the rear windows of cars in the parking lots of busy grocery stores or malls. I said this when they grew taller, too. And I have always been particularly likely to advise this around the holidays.
That’s because at this time of year all of us — including teens and adults who are behind the wheels of cars and trucks — are more busy, preoccupied and hurried than usual. The hurry that arrives with the aptly named Christmas rush combined with the head-spinning whirl of shopping, socializing and more all add up to a real likelihood that many drivers are just not as alert as they are at other times of year. Add to this the poor visibility that comes with snowy conditions, the ill-advised use of cell phones and other electronic devices, and the unfortunate likelihood that some drivers have been drinking, and the situation has far too much potential for disaster.
Caution regarding cars and other vehicles at Christmastime should not be limited to vigilance on the part of pedestrians. Those of us who get behind the wheel — or who hand over the car keys to our teens — need to exercise caution, too. We might say to ourselves and to our adolescents, “Remember, the last thing on any pedestrian’s mind is that he or she may be in the path of your vehicle.” Pedestrians, too, are more busy and distracted than usual. Add to their potential lack of caution the fact that many dress in dark jackets without eye-catching, lighter-colored accessories, or the fact youngsters are difficult to see in any case, and you’ve got a recipe for tragedy.
Another potential hazard is inherent in the borrowed or rented car situation. It is challenging enough to maneuver your own car in icy or otherwise inclement winter conditions, but handling an unfamiliar vehicle on slippery surfaces can be downright unpredictable — with the potential for lethal results. When you turn the key in a car you’re not accustomed to driving, tell yourself to drive slightly slower than you usually do, and to keep more space than usual between your car and the next vehicle.
Finally, if you are driving more slowly than others, be aware of it. Does it seem there are always other cars on your tail when you are traveling long distances on Maine’s two-lane roads? Realize that it might be possible your slower pace is driving the drivers behind you crazy, leading them to make a point by tailgating you. While the tailgating is not a good idea, it can clue you in that your pace is unusually slow. When it is safe to do so, signal first, then pull over and let the drivers behind you pass. Not only might you be amazed at how many drivers were steaming with frustration behind you, but you also will prevent them from taking risks to pass you. Finally, the road will be yours again — temporarily, at least — to travel along at your own pace.