I’m not much one for staying home at Christmas, and so I packed my bags and headed off to New Orleans. I don’t like driving when I’m on vacation—it’s supposed to be a break from work—and the city’s compact neighbourhoods are great for walking, so I stayed on foot.
That said, the city is great for strolling, until you put the local drivers into the mix. That put me into rant mode almost immediately. No matter what city you’re in, no matter where you’re driving, think about the effect you’re having on pedestrians.
Drivers in Louisiana are among the worst in the U.S., according to insurance statistics, and I can believe it. (It reflects in insurance rates too: my friend who lives in New Orleans, and who drives a three-year-old Civic with a spotless driving record, pays $176.84 a month for coverage.) But while I did see more people doing more things wrong overall there, I see the same bad habits everywhere, including at home in Canada.
My husband and I joked that turn signals must be illegal in New Orleans, judging by how infrequently drivers use them. But it’s really no laughing matter. Pedestrians depend on turn signals, switched on well before you make your turn.
Signals warn people that you intend to drive in front of them. If you flip a turn without signalling, you’ll catch people off guard, especially if they’ve already stepped off the curb onto the asphalt.
When you have to stop your vehicle for those on foot, come to a complete halt while you’re waiting. A huge number of New Orleans drivers have a horrific habit of slowing down far in advance, but then they continue to creep ahead as pedestrians take the right-of-way in front of them. It bothered the hell out of me to cross while a bumper kept coming toward my knees—especially when far too many drivers are busy looking at their phones, instead of their windshields.
If there are pedestrians crossing in front of you when you’re turning, stay in your lane and keep your wheels pointed straight ahead. Don’t turn halfway around the corner in front of them. If someone hits you from behind, it’ll smash you into the people on foot.
And when they were pulling out of side streets or driveways, New Orleans drivers did what far too many do everywhere: they looked to their left, for oncoming traffic, without looking to their right to see if pedestrians were crossing in front of them. One woman, driving ridiculously fast out of a parking lot, came so close to hitting us that my husband reached out and rapped on her side window. It wasn’t until she yelled at us, and I yelled back with an explanation (expletives included, of course), that she realized why he’d smacked the glass. It never dawned on her that she’d done anything wrong.
Whenever you’re driving, wherever and whatever you’re driving, don’t make a move until you’ve considered the pedestrians around you. Use turn signals. Put down the phone and pay attention. Make eye contact. Give them plenty of room. Don’t move your vehicle at all unless you’ve looked to the left, the right, and ahead. Even if they’re in the wrong—and they frequently are—you’re going to inflict a lot of injury if you hit them. New Orleans drivers may be awful, but those bad habits are everywhere, and they need to change right now.