I AM A DRIVER

I’m a driver and sometimes I get mad. 15 years ago, when my career behind the wheel has started, I was usually irritated by too slow driving. Now it’s too fast drivers that get on my nerves. No, I’m not getting old. I’m just more mature and value life more.
15 years, time flies. So much has changed on polish roads. Yet, there is a mass of dangerous situations that still happen way too often. Some of them are results of totally unacceptable behaviors: overtaking as „the third one”, DWI or not yielding to pedestrians on the pedestrian crossing. There are also many acts that are less dangerous, though equally irritating. My „favorite” are:

• Not using blinkers (I cannot tell why people do that, really. Is it that they save it for special occasions?)
• Honking in cases other than warnings. It’s not that troublesome if one does it to greet a friend or relative (though it’s not really a polish road case). It is though very annoying when honking means: „drive faster moron”, „why did you stop for the pedestrians, you idiot?” or „move 10m forward in traffic jam NOW!”
• Blocking the crossroads – entering them at orange light when it’s more than certain one won’t be able to leave it by the time red is on. Or moving bumper to bumper when you actually stand on the thoroughfare of subordinated road.
• Not letting the adjoining traffic. Ok, I know, we don’t like all the dodgers that pass all the jams and cut in like nothing ever happend. But what does it have to do with people jost turning from another street? It lacks class.

But we drivers are easily pissed off not only by the other drivers. It’s also the bikers that get on our nerves and their more or less sensible behaviors. Their road cruises at nights with no kind of light or reflex whatsoever. Their crazy fast rides on the side walks without slowing down in front of driveways. I myself witnessed once a situation when three bikers almost beat a driver who dared to honk when their crazy ride almost ended up on his mask. My dear hubby also once almost hit a biker – on the bike pass. The thing was that the biker wore dark clothes and it was a rainy night. We even stopped and apologized only to hear some very non civilized words.

I AM A BIKER

Including my first ride „Dixie” it’s been 27 years since I’ve been using the two wheels. As a biker I’m constantly irritated by pedestrians an other bikers. Not by the drivers, though. Irritation gives place to fear. Fear for my own health and life, and for the well being of the two-year-old that rides right behind me.
The list of sins that are committed by the drivers against the bikers is long. On the top positions are notorious overtakings without proper distance. A real masters at doing that are the bus drivers – constantly pushing the bikers out of the road. Dear drivers, in Poland there is no sufficient network of bike paths, that could let the bikers completely avoid the roads. And these roads are not yours, they’re common. The bikers can and often have to use them. And they’re not some bollards – hitting them has way different consequences. Is it really worth to risk-fully overtake them just to stop after 50m – at the red light, at the bus stop or simply – in the traffic jam?
Another major sin is not stoping and yielding at turns, at the bike ways. I cannot tell what’s worse: doing it due to lack of attention or on purpose. I found a way to handle the lack of attention – I always look at the drivers face and check his state of mind. If he/she is absent – I don’t take the risk. I evaluate the benefits of being right (but hit by a car) with benefit of remaining in one piece. It’s always the latter one that I choose.

I AM A PEDESTRIAN

I don’t want to reveal how long I am a pedestrian. It’s an interesting role though. Everyone plays it. And yet it’s the least respected party. As a pedestrian I don’t get irritated by much, but many situations terrify me:
• cars entering crossings at full speed. Really, you’re that much in a hurry?
• stoping for crossing pedestrians where there’s no crossing – favors that can turn our lethal;
• cars parked right at the pedestrian crossing – more than dangerous. Yet only once I observed people being fined for that. I guess the police is just too busy giving tickets for parking time crossed by 10 min at proper parking lots
• terribly lighted pedestrian crossings at nights. Blinding the drivers, not helping them see the pedestrians at all
• bikers riding on side walks at full speed, as if they were to reach cosmic speed I. I had this unpleasant experience of being hit by one. I was 6 months pregnant, was knocked down from my feet and yet the guy and his girl friend didn’t even stop to check on me – just turned around and drove on.

IT’S STILL VERY DANGEROUS ON THE POLISH ROADS

In 2014 there was 3 202 dead, 42 545 injured. It’s over 116 people loosing their health and over 9 loosing their lives – every single day. If the circumstances were different one could expect a national mourning. But those tragedies are usually not even mentioned in media. After all, there is nothing spectacular in such popular way to leave this world, so for mass media such information counts for nothing. Their attitude is not helpful at all.

IS THERE ANY SUPER REMEDY?

I’m sure each one of us has at least couple of ideas on how to make polish roads a safer place. Frankly speaking, I don’t see any contribution to that in making the punishments more and more strict. Placing speed radars at every corner and increasing the age at which you can get the driving license didn’t turn out to be the game changers either. Perhaps putting more pressure on the education and road safety aspects would make a difference? I raised the subject with quite an experienced copper: „Throughout 25 years of my work, observing things from the other side of the barricades, I came to a conclusion that Poles have serious issue with respect for law. Of course, not everything can be regulated by the statutes, not every situation may be foreseen. So often it comes as a surprise to people – the epiphany that law applies not only to everyone around them, but themselves. When we are drivers we focus on improper behavior of the bikers; when we are bikers we are irritated by pedestrians and drivers. I’m not sure if it’s because of our national attitude – unhealthy approach toward self criticism. What I’m sure of, is that preventive measures cannot be limited to the legal area. We need to put much more pressure on education, start work with the youngest ones. Only long term work on creating safety consciousness and respect toward life can make a difference.”
As I see it: there are few problems. One thing is our lack of respect toward law, in particular traffic rules. The fact that they’re poorly regulated doesn’t help. They’re spread all over in many different legal acts and definitely missing logic. For example a biker is a normal party of the traffic, yet he’s obliged to use only the right side of the lane. So obvious to every one. But when you think about – does it add to traffic safety at all? Even the law itself gives the bikers somewhat impaired position. Car shall overtake him within distance of at least 1m. But because biker’s forced to use the right side he’d be often overtaken where there’s no space for the maneuver. In most of the cases it ends up well, most but not all of them.
Safety being the main purpose is forgotten not only in legal acts. Also those who execute the law seem not to be focused on it. They concentrate on how many tickets they give, on the statistics of DWI’s, on fighting speeding. But the word safety seem rather forgotten. And it matters – where’s the focus of security services.

Unfortunately there is no simple panacea. We need to keep in minds that achieving safety on our roads is not only the job of the police, politics, it’s also in our own best interest to make a contribution. Legal changes are important but not enough. I guess we could also have a look around, check out what worked in the countries that succeeded at achieving much safer roads. „In France there was a 42% drop in road fatalities in comparison with 2001 statistics. In Poland it was only a 5% drop.” (source: Polish Red Cross).

As a society on the whole we still need to achieve a certain level of maturity and improve our attitude toward rules. We need to gain respect toward ourselves and the others and care more for our own and others safety. We need to keep in mind that by joining the traffic: as bikers, pedestrians or the drivers we are putting at stake our life and our health so it’s worth to minimize the risk. After all its should be our goal to keep it at the probability level of wining a national lottery, not one in russian roulette.