Why daydreaming is dangerous too

Please pay attention when behind the wheel. I say “pay attention;” I do not mean simply looking three metres ahead of your front bumper but instead looking a block or two down the road to see what sort of obstacles or traffic pattern you are going to drive into. By stealing glimpses of what lays ahead you are able to prepare for whatever it is you are driving towards, be it a construction zone, a school zone or an open stretch of road.

That said, even aware drivers can be caught off guard by the sudden and unexpected. Several years ago, I owned a Jeep YJ. It was a great vehicle for my “weekend-warrior” lifestyle and was perfect for regular jaunts up into the wilderness, but like many other SUV-type vehicles it came with a rollover warning. High centre of gravity + short wheelbase = higher rollover risk. I was aware of the risk and drove accordingly until one night, when I was on my way home from work. At the time, my commute took me along Marine Way in Burnaby. Exhaustion after a long shift and the light traffic lulled me into an automatic-pilot daze. I remember it being a warm, clear night and I remember planning to take the top off my Jeep the following morning to take advantage of the nice weather. I’m sure I was still lost in these thoughts when a dog sprang out in front of my Jeep from the bushes at the side of the highway. It was a Rottweiler, it was huge and it scared the you-know-what out of me. I had about 1.25 seconds to make a decision on what to do, but I’m of the belief my primal instincts took over because I yarded my steering wheel to the side in an effort to avoid hitting the dog. In hindsight, this was not a great idea, because my Jeep first fishtailed left and then right as I tried to correct the monumental skid I was in and I was powerless to prevent the resulting 360 and following 180 turns my Jeep went into. Somehow, the Jeep did not completely flip but I ended up in the ditch regardless, facing the wrong way, the headlights on my vehicle pointing up towards Orion, my favourite of all the constellations (and I wonder why, for Orion always has his two dogs by his side, Procyon and Sirius). As I sat there, looking up at the night sky, I knew I was lucky as the clearest memory of the near rollover was the looming electrical standard in my peripheral vision. It was but mere inches from my Jeep; somehow, I had not struck it broadside. Thank goodness; otherwise, I might not be here writing this column.

Since then, having had the “luxury” of a close call, I’ve planned ahead on what I should do if faced with another situation. Even though it pains me, I’ll not try to avoid a last-second collision with a dog or another similar-sized animal for fear of either crashing and injuring myself or swerving and causing a collision where someone else is injured or killed. Of course, if a person is the obstacle I’ll make every effort to avoid them, and the same can be said for a large animal like a moose or an elk, which would be like driving into a cement wall.

It’s up to every driver to go through the same mental exercises to prepare yourself or the unexpected. Give it a try, and let me know how it turns out.

Vancouver police constable Sandra Glendinning blogs at behindtheblueline.ca. Her opinions aren’t necessarily those of the city’s police department or board.

Photograph by: Nick Brancaccio, The Windsor Star