So here it goes: whenever a driver changes lanes, they should check the rearview mirror, the side mirror, and then look over their shoulder to make sure the lane is clear, before changing lanes.
We would be hard-pressed to find any disagreement with that advice, but practice is more important than preaching. Not long ago, the roads were more empty, so drivers were much less likely to encounter anyone while switching lanes. Speeds, of course, picked up, so the consequences were worse when cars did make contact. Neck swivels got rusty and they could use some oil.
The safety features on cars have made the over-the-shoulder look-see a little less necessary. Blind spot sensor lights on mirrors illuminate when cars are close enough to them. But those extraordinarily helpful warnings should not replace our double-checking the space next to our vehicles. That extra confirmation doesn’t cost us time; it’s just smart. Those blind spot sensors, much like GPS apps, have made us safer and more on-course. But they’ve also made us subconsciously take less ownership in driving.
When driving in areas with more cyclists and pedestrians, particularly downtown areas, we should also check our blind spots when making a turn. For example, if a car is turning right and the driver doesn’t check over their right shoulder, a cyclist could be zooming up to that spot or a pedestrian could be starting out in a crosswalk. While the biker and the walker should also be more careful in this spot, the driver is the one behind the steel behemoth that can cause the most damage.
Our failures to check blind spots can cause chain reactions of problems. Take Momo’s example. The merging driver’s failure to check if Momo was in the lane caused her to make an evasive move and switch lanes quickly. She checked her blind spot sensor in that brief moment but didn’t have a chance to look over her shoulder. She could have easily cut off or hit another car or caused that other vehicle to make its own evasive move and wreck. When we are careless, we cause others to behave evasively, and all of that creates chaos.
Considering the numerous factors on roads we encounter that cause trouble - a sudden stalled vehicle, debris, potholes, people merging into lanes without looking - we simply cannot afford to give less than our full attention behind the wheel. And checking one’s blind spots is easily overlooked, but largely important.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.