Klaxon Magi (big honk)

August 14th, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

brasshornleftIn cycling v. driving, the relative slow pace and far greater vulnerability without the metal and plastic shell encourage, as the New Age types might say, being in the moment. Without the armor, your brain tends to greater awareness.

In that mindset, I’ve noticed horn blowing for some time. Specifically, those drivers of little brain too often use their horns incessantly or repeatedly in lieu of other components. When a car, cyclist or pedestrian is on their road, instead of what common sense, sense, courtesy, safety and the law mandate, they may not touch the brake or even ease off on the gas pedal.

Instead, ignoring the simple rules of solid geometry, physics and even teh obvious vectors of those involved, they blow their horns. It is though the warning sound is magic and they have it as a wand. Blow the horn and the slower car will suddenly speed to the desired rate, or the bicycle and rider will poof disappear, or the pedestrian will instantly transport out of the crosswalk or street to allow unimpeded travel. It’s magic!

Except, of course, lackaday, none of the horn magic has worked, works or will ever work.

Well over 20 years ago when I began cycling regularly, I had to adjust my driving brain considerably. While I have been a big walker since childhood and well understood the strictures of the pedestrian, I had to cycle in and around Boston for quite awhile to realize far too many drivers are not in the moment.

Moreover, when I became a technical writer about the same time, I found it very useful to think like the end user of the manuals and help systems I’d create. While an advocate for that profession, I have to agree with many customers that far too many of us don’t do that. Our products suffer because they present the products and procedures one way, the developers’ way, regardless of how real people think.

Thus it is on the road. Far too many drivers, maybe even most of them, appear to zone out and are not in the moment, are not aware of the conditions and obstacles ahead or to the side, of what other people on the road can do.

Some other cyclists and I were thinking of that last week. We noted such obvious issues that are not at all obvious to inattentive drivers. For a few, a poorly constructed bike lane, like on Enneking Parkway that goes from a couple of feet (marginally OK) to inches next a drop off, or a field of fine gravel or broken glass in the shoulder. Those conditions are obvious to a driver in the moment and each could cause a cyclist to skid, crash, blow a tire, or be thrown into the travel lane.

It helps a driver to also be a cyclist to be attentive to these problems that should be obvious. Then again, drivers should not look right in front of their hood ornaments. Instead, they are far safer if they keep a field of vision that looks ahead to brake lights as well as to the side for problems for them and others.

In acknowledgment of the shortcomings of those of little brain, the many Pooh drivers, a lot more brain power goes into awareness. Being safe is more work than being annoyed at everyone else and laying on the horn at every chance.

Likely the way to change the self-centered habits of the Pooh drivers is with enforcement. I am not optimistic. There are numerous laws about how to behave when approaching and passing. Plus our municipalities forbid horn blowing as threats or scolds, reserving them as simple warnings for imminent crashes.

In cities like Boston where the constabulary favors the no-blood-no-ticket guideline, I can’t see cops ticketing dummies who blow the horn when the proper response would be to slow for a few seconds. I long ago got over thinking this was about cyclists. When I spin or drive, I see and hear the blowers do the same to slower vehicles and walkers, even those in crosswalks with the STOP FOR PEDESTRIAN signs.

These bozos behave as though they can’t believe someone, anyone dares to share their roads.

Probably the worst of them are those that come just to a cyclist’s rear wheel and lay on the horn. That of course is startling and could well cause a crash, perhaps even a fatality. We’d think they’d have at least that much sense, but we have to remember that someone who never had good manners taught at home and who ignores the requirements to pass at safe speed and distance and who can’t figure out when to use the brake is not, as that expression goes again, in the moment.

We can hope for enforcement and the optimist’s view that more cyclists on the road will make more drivers aware. Meanwhile, I keep a wide horizon when I cycle, as I do when I drive, and I slavishly use my side mirror.

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