The funny thing about Street Smarts is the fact that we often ignore a critical part of our name.
I’m not talking about the “Smarts.” As challenging as that concept proves to be for Yours Truly, I somehow manage to eke out a column each month that imparts some type of wisdom. That wisdom is typically stolen from some far brighter individual or organization, but I share it regardless.
Instead, let’s talk about the “Street” and its most common, indifferent and deadly group, the wheeled menace known simply as “traffic.”
For a tactical magazine, the topic of traffic safety is about as unsexy as covering the latest developments in feminine hygiene products but, in terms of commonality, sheer destructiveness and an impressive yearly body count, you can’t beat cars and trucks. Today we will hone in on the vehicle-versus-pedestrian version of Blood on the Highway, not the countless other varieties of traffic mayhem enumerated nightly on your local news.
This problem affects every single reader of this magazine unless you happen to be a hermit. Death or serious injury by vehicle is one of the most common dangers faced on a daily basis, yet we seem to chalk up the problem to the whims of luck.
The reason this danger is so unappreciated is familiarity. Modern society spends many hours each week in a vehicle, and many of us believe we are the best undiscovered driving talent since Mario Andretti. Therefore we spend our time whistling in the graveyard, zipping past pedestrians, emergency and highway workers on the way home to put on our dark jogging suit and trot down the unlit shoulder of the highway. Most of the time, nothing happens.
Most of the time, I say.
However, if you spend time on foot around vehicles, as do most readers of this magazine, there are some strategies to tip the scales a little more in your favor.
One of the best protection devices to come down the pike is the stupid “lemon drop” or “lollipop” vest everyone is now required to wear while working or walking near a highway. Our officers hate those things, but it’s difficult to argue that they aren’t effective. Though the statistics aren’t yet available, there should be a significant drop in cops, firemen, medics, tow-truck drivers and even media personnel being run over by cars.
Yeah, I don’t like them either, but I wear mine religiously. Even more important than your own safety is the fact that your survivors might have a far more difficult time receiving an accidental- death settlement in the event of an accident where you weren’t wearing yours. Therefore, we simply must wear them.
As an aside, keep your camera handy. In the middle of the night, firemen and medics are notorious for putting them
on backwards or upside-down in their semi-awakened state. I have a collection of these pictures and it brings me joy.
A few years ago, I wrote a column about safety while directing traffic, likening it to herding cattle. In both instances, an exposed person is face to face with a herd of lumbering and potentially deadly beasts that will turn you into a puddle of hairy tollhouse cookie mix in the blink of an eye if you lose focus.
You must always start with the assumption that there is at least one driver in every string of traffic who is so stupid, addled, distracted or chemically altered that he will run you down if given the opportunity. At the speed vehicles travel, especially on highways, that window of opportunity is measured in portions of a second.
For cops, security officers and the military, traffic safety must take precedence over tactical safety during traffic stops. Even though there is a chance that the driver might shoot you, there is nearly a 100% chance that you will die if you meet the front bumper of a passing truck. If guns suddenly come into play, you must still remember passing traffic while making tactical movements or returning fire. This is not something that comes naturally and must be constantly trained and mentally visualized prior to an actual incident.
Every single driver, regardless of occupation, location or vehicle, should make it an iron-clad habit to glance out the side-view mirror before opening their door. Just the other day, one of our officers briefly forgot this rule, which made for a very interesting scene at the front door of the police station. It was humorous only because he didn’t lose an arm or leg. Check those mirrors.
As simple as it seems, whenever you are working alongside a roadway, you should minimize your exposure to oncoming traffic by taking business farther away from the road. As police officers, we emphasize a passenger-side approach both for tactical and traffic-safety purposes, but many citizens don’t seem to mind standing within arm’s length of speeding traffic when out of gas, broken down or changing a tire.
If you must perform some task alongside a highway, a spotter is extremely useful. It is important that they constantly watch oncoming traffic like the proverbial hawk, in order to provide ample warning if a vehicle swerves, loses control or otherwise appears to be headed in your direction.
In every highway situation, you should pre-plan an “out”—somewhere relatively safe to flee to in case things suddenly get hairy. In our jurisdiction several years ago, a motorist survived a rather serious crash at midnight, but then accidentally leaped to his death from an overpass when another out-of control vehicle skidded his way. According to witnesses, he apparently didn’t realize his jump to safety took him over the side of a bridge. Have a plan in mind before the split-second decision needs to be made.
Worrying about traffic doesn’t seem quite as glamorous as spending time on the range or fighting on the mats. But make no mistake, your actions while in traffic should be at the forefront of your mind before you even begin to consider other tactical concerns.
Otherwise, the last thing to go through your mind could be your toenails.