HERGOTT: Don’t believe in blind luck while driving

Lawyer Paul Hergott’s latest column

“Holy Mary Mother of God”. Though it was about 25 years ago, I remember the moment my mother uttered those words like it was yesterday.

She was getting back into driving. I was along for support.

We were stopped facing a stop sign at 13th Avenue, a busy street in Regina, Saskatchewan. Parked cars along our side of 13th avenue blocked our view.

Her words did nothing to calm my panic when she hit the gas.

My mother was not intending to put us, and others, at risk. She felt it unsafe to pull forward past the stop sign to look for a safe break in traffic because that, in itself, might put us in harm’s way.

She thought it safer to just quickly go for it.

We made it across. Divine intervention? I think blind (literally) luck.

A “Jesus take the wheel” approach to stop signs is (I hope) an exceedingly uncommon one.

But there are much more common scenarios where we think nothing of proceeding completely blind towards potential hazards.

The scenarios I am referring to arise when one lane is flowing while another lane (or lanes) have come to a stop.

This regularly occurs with HOV lanes. Only those with more than one occupant can cruise past while others are gridlocked.

It also occurs when a left turner, waiting for oncoming traffic to clear, blocks traffic coming from behind. Traffic will move over to the right to get past. Often even if there isn’t a designated lane.

If the stopped vehicles are low profile sports cars you can see over, no problem.

But stopped traffic often blocks your view of what might be happening ahead of it. And vice versa.

An oncoming left turner, or crossing driver, might be taking the opportunity to make their way across the street in front of the stopped traffic.

They might have been waived across by a lead stopped vehicle.

They might be slowly inching forward, aware of the possibility that a vehicle might be coming up the curb lane. Or they might be oblivious.

It might not be a vehicle. It might be someone walking their dog, pushing a stroller, out for a jog, on a bicycle or roller blading.

You can’t see them. They can’t see you. Each of you is as blind to potential hazards as my mother was when facing that stop sign.

And each of you faces the same choice.

You can choose to reduce your speed and increase your vigilance so that you can react safely. Or you can rely on divine intervention.

Do you, cruising up the empty curb lane, have the absolute right of way? What about the pedestrian at an unmarked crosswalk? What if the crossing vehicle, facing a stop sign, had slowly started across when you were still half a block away? Over the next two columns I will be sharing the results of actual court cases where judges have wrestled with how to assess liability in these scenarios.

But who cares about liability? Let’s care about safety this Season, and for all of 2020. Embrace whatever higher power you might embrace, but please don’t let them take the wheel.

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