The Near-Miss

A few days ago, I came within a couple of inches of hitting a pedestrian.

I was waiting at a stop sign, making a right-hand turn into traffic, watching for a break in the cars approaching from the left. A six-foot fence wraps around the corner to my right, and so when I’d pulled up to the intersection, I hadn’t seen anybody coming. As the break in the traffic made its way to me, I pulled out — barely missing the guy who had just crossed in front of my car from the right.

He gave me the look I’ve given any number of drivers who have been stupidly unaware of pedestrians around them, a lingering, accusatory glare. And my blood ran completely cold.

I haven’t been able to get that look, or that moment, out of my mind since. In my defense, I’ll say that I was always taught that, as a pedestrian, you never take anything for granted, and particularly not that a driver has seen you. If there’s any question — for instance, if you’ve just popped out from behind a tall fence and the driver of the car half pulled-out and inching forward at the corner is clearly staring over her left shoulder and hasn’t made eye contact with you at all — then you either wait, or you cross behind the car.*

So while I’m not willing to accept one hundred percent of the blame for this horror in the making, the fact remains that I was the one wielding the twenty-three hundred pound deadly weapon, and so it was incumbent on me to make sure that it wasn’t pointed directly at anybody. And I just can’t get the image of what could have happened out of my head.

I’ve had accidents before, though not for many, many years. [Insert mpeg of me knocking on desk.] And I’ve occasionally made stupid, dangerous mistakes behind the wheel, had moments at which I’ve escaped a crack-up only through fast reflexes, or dumb luck, or both. But I’ve never come anywhere close to the sickening metal-on-flesh reality of a vehicle-pedestrian accident before, and I have to say that having come as close as I did is really freaking my shit the fuck out.

*The only exception to the rule of pre-crossing pedestrian-driver eye contact, and it’s a major one, arises in crossing pretty much any street in Manhattan. When you’ve got the WALK, you go — no looking. And god help you if you make eye contact with a turning cab driver: once they know you’ve seen them, they assume you’re planning on letting them go.


  1. yeah, you know, i was pulling out of my driveway the other day, which backs onto a busy street, and a runner was running NOT on the sidewalk, but on the road, and I saw him coming from yards away, and he saw me make eye-contact, but assuming he would be happy to jog behind my car, i slowly inched up to seize my moment to pull out into traffic, and instead of slowing down or jogging behind my car or even–heaven forfend–sticking to the sidewalk, he speeds up and runs right at my car, then glares at me for being in his path!! AAAH!

  2. I almost hit a woman once, when it was dark and raining, and I turned and there she was right in front of me. I jammed the breaks and went into a skid and stopped a few feet from her. I still feel bad about that, even though she was nearly impossible to see.

    Then again, I once stopped to let a pedestrian pass, and he turned out to be my then-current English prof, who leaned in and said, “You just passed up a chance to run over a professor!”

    Incline, when I’m running and make eye contact, I assume that the driver will let me pass. I think that’s standard.

  3. yeah, i was level with him when we made eye-contact, so my car was already passed his path as he was running up from a couple yards back, and i was waiting for an opening, so he would have had to change his path to run in front of me too, it would have been about as easy. i don’t know. i let people pass if they’re running in front of my car, but he was running at my car the whole time. if he’d been on the sidewalk, it would have been a clear path around the back of my car, because the “tree-lawn” is wide on my block. but yeah, i don’t know, he just seemed to run at my car and give me a dirty look for my car blocking his path, and i don’t know why it made me so mad in this one case. i don’t know, i always feel bad ticking people off for just about any reason, but this guy’s running AT my car, and his dirty look, and his decision not to use the sidewalk on a notoriously busy street really got under my skin.

    i don’t know if i’d pass up a chance to nudge a few profs with my bumper, but now that i’m stuck TAing stats, i am constantly watching my own back in the parking lot…

  4. I’m always a bit amazed at the deference that California drivers show to pedestrians. Or for that matter the deference that California pedestrians show to traffic signals. In college, I went to a movie in Westwood with a bunch of friends and as we were walking back to the car. 11p, not a car in sight, and they were all planning on waiting for the “walk” signal.

    The flip side being that when I, using my habits acquired in the city of my birth cross ignoring signals and just watching traffic am amazed at cars that will stop even though there’s no chance of them coming anywhere near me.


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