When people are unlucky — like when they get attacked by a shark — they often talk about how lucky they were.
“I only lost my leg,” they’ll say. “Think what could have happened.”
This is irrational — lucky would have been not to get bitten by a shark — and that’s why I hesitate to tell my story of getting hit by a city bus, and why it turned out to be a good thing.
A month or so ago, I was driving down Maple Street in Glens Falls, heading back to the paper after lunch at home. I intended to turn left off Maple onto Curran, the little street that runs up to Lawrence, but for some reason, a car coming the other way stopped right before Curran, as if to let me go ahead.
I hesitated for several seconds, just sitting there with my blinker on. But finally, as the car on the other side didn’t move and others started to line up behind it, I turned.
Right then, the nose of the bus hit me amidships. When I got out to gawk at the damage, it looked like something very large had taken a bite out of the side of my car.
Arguments ensued, with the bus driver saying I was “parked,” which I told him as politely as possible was a fantastical view of what happened, but the incident ended with me being given a ticket for “failure to yield.” In court, this got reduced to: “Pay us $188 and take a defensive driving course,” which gets me to the point of this column.
The defensive driving course, which I took online for about $30, was very good and has changed my driving for the better. It gave me specific tips, but mostly it changed the way I approach driving, making me more aware and more careful.
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After the ticket — after I’d explained all the ways it was unjustified to an unpersuaded police officer — I went up to the Greater Glens Falls Transit office, because the bus driver had mentioned the bus had a camera.
Scott Sopczyk, director of the office, let me watch the video, and it surprised me. I hadn’t been parked before the crash, but I could see why the driver thought I had. As I prepared to turn left, I had drifted much farther to the right than I realized — so, when I ended up waiting there for a few seconds, it looked like I was parked next to the curb.
The defensive driving course talked about being aware of where you are on the road and anticipating things that might go wrong. But I hadn’t been aware I was so far over to the right, and I didn’t anticipate a car (or a bus) might come up behind me.
My biggest mistake was not looking in the rear-view mirror before turning left. If I had, I would have seen that bus bearing down on me like a shark approaching a surfboard.
The message the course repeated was that the only driver’s actions you can control are your own, but that can be enough to keep you safe, if you work at it.
I particularly liked the course’s recommendation on tailgating. When someone is hanging on your bumper, the course says, slow down. That will give the tailgating driver a chance to pass you.
Yes, slow down. And if that doesn’t work, slow down some more. That should address the tailgating problem in exactly the right way.
As I said, the defensive driving course has given me a new and better attitude, and it can give you one, too — you can take the course even if you haven’t gotten a ticket — and I look forward to seeing you all on the road, being careful and aware, with happy tailgaters in a line behind you.