Friday, November 30, 2012

Driving in Houston: Humans Are Hazardous

After being auto accident free for almost 3 years in the US, last week I broke the strike of luck. I was involved in a minor accident. It was minor because no one got hurt but my and that old annoying guy's front bumpers. Though dealing with the insurance was not pleasant, I'm thankful the damage was minimal.

I was on my way to teach a 6.15 PM yoga class and because of the daylight saving time it was already dark when I left home. It was the week of Thanksgiving and people were driving like mad because they either wanted to shop or go home to prepare for their trips. Anyways, the accident was rather stupid and could easily be avoided if I just took the time and looked around before making a U-turn. I must admit that I was in a rush, being already 5 minutes late. My light was finally green and the car in front of me was making a left. I then made (or rather attempted) a U-turn. Before I knew it there was a loud sound and my car was halted. Obviously, when I looked to the front there was this old guy in his Jeep Cherokee looking pissed at me. He was making a right turn.

Long story short, the guy tried to put the blame on me. When the police came he didn't find anyone to be at fault. It was legal to make a U-turn in Texas unless stated otherwise and it was legal to make a right turn on a red light as long as the person yield to uncoming traffic. We were both wrong for being careless.

That minor accident was enough to put my head in perspective. It was a great adaption effort from my part to drive in Houston. Although Jakarta had (still does!) chaotic traffic, but I felt like I knew how to read situations and road users. I knew what to expect from Jakarta (there are of course always surprises, but still). It took me a lot of courage to drive in Houston. Big cars, intimidating trucks, people speeding, and the concept of right-of-way intimidated me, but I managed to overcome my fear and started driving. I had been feeling so comfortable with the way I drove up until that accident. The absence of moth-like motorcycles and annoying public transportations drivers also made me believe that it was indeed safer to drive here. As a result, I failed to notice my surroundings, assuming that everyone will follow rules thus as long as you have the right-of-way you'd be OK.

Another thing happened last night. It freaked me out big time. Feet cold, hands shaking and everything. I was on my way back from teaching a yoga class for a friend. I was subbing for her. The road to and from her place has a part of a long stretch with curves and no traffic light. The road was over a reservoir area so there was no residential areas around for at least 2 miles. There are road barriers on the sides of this two-way road (each way has two lanes), but not a road separator. There is also no road lights.

It was 8.40 PM and I was on the right lane just driving 2 mph under the 50 mph speed limit going southbound. I'm sure because I kept checking my speedometer. I always avoid being on the left lane when it comes to two-way roads without a separator. On my left there was a car going around 50 mph. We were close to each other, but I made sure I was not in his blind spot. Because of my previous accident I was constantly noticing everything around me, checking the rear-view mirror over and over again. There was no car behind me. I could see headlights but they were far away. Suddenly there was a pair of headlights going super fast approaching the car next to me. That car was going really fast I automatically thought of slowing down a bit and hoping that the car next to me would step on its gas so at least there was an opening for that speeding car to pass him from the right. I think I should have slowed down more and immediately because what happened next was absolutely horrible.

That speeding car suddenly took the left lane of the car next to me which was one of the lanes going the opposite direction (northbound). Fortunately cars going northbound were still far away. I thought the crazy driver would pass the car next to me from the left. It was a crazy idea but had he stayed on his (over-the-top) speed he would have made it. What the driver did next was just insane. It looked like he suddenly realized that he was on the wrong lane so he suddenly made a sharp left. I really don't know what that guy was thinking, it looked like he was attempting a 180. He might be drunk. The passenger side of the car then hit the right side road barrier so hard that I saw sparks from the two colliding metals. I was so afraid that the crazy car would make a 360 after that and hit my car if I stopped or slowed down so I just drove away. Oh God, I feel nauseated every time I think of that episode.

Cars are dangerous but people are more hazardous. Crazy, unstable, intoxicated, basically selfish people behind wheels are accidents waiting to happen. I pledge to be even more careful when I'm on the road. From now on, I'll just back off and let people (crazy stupid people!) have their way. I'm going to follow speed limits, I'm going to keep my eyes moving for hazard potentials, I'm going to keep a safe distance with other cars. I will never drink and drive and I will never ever talk or text when I'm driving. I don't care if people think I drive like an old lady. I'm not going to jeopardize myself and other people. God help me. God help all of us.

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