column: Close call with pedestrians made me think: 'I could have killed those 2 people'
I didn’t expect a routine trip to Meijer to turn into a near-miss crash involving a pair of pedestrians, but that’s exactly what happened to me last Saturday as I headed north on Carpenter Road.
The traffic was fairly thick, the 6 p.m. skies plenty dark. My distractions were few: No phone ringing, no urge to change the radio station, no need to consider anything beyond getting home and getting my purchases stowed away before dinner.
And suddenly two people were approaching the yellow line of my lane as they tried to cross the five-line road.
I swerved slightly to the right of the lane. The man - I don’t even know the gender of the second person - raised his hand as if in apology and stepped back. I watched in the rearview mirror as the car behind me approached at my speed, and then I saw more cars coming southbound - and I can only assume that somehow, those two people ended up safe.
I spent the rest of the drive home thinking to myself, “I could have killed those two people.”
And as a result, I’m here to tell you: Pedestrians cannot assume that drivers see them.
The incident struck me on many levels, fueled largely by the recent spate of stories about pedestrian fatalities in the Ann Arbor area.
It feels like an epidemic right now, though reporters at AnnArbor.com are still trying to determine whether there’s a random clustering of incidents.
Either way, these crashes are devastating to more than their victims. Families, drivers and witnesses all suffer trauma from these incidents.
I can’t speak personally to any of that, and I’m grateful that I can say that.
But I also went through a range of emotion that night, from fear that I could have destroyed two lives to anger that the people who nearly stepped in front of my minivan that night were not at a crosswalk, not under a streetlight and wearing dark clothing.
Those people were invisible to me. Yet they could have been hurt or killed by the vehicle I was driving.
Days later, I spoke to Deputy Chief Gordy Schick of the Pittsfield Township Police, the agency that would have been called to the scene had there been an accident.
His officers investigate a few fatal pedestrian crashes every year, he said, including one earlier this month on Golfside.
The stories of who’s involved and what’s happened will change, but their process is always the same.
“We always look at the actual scene itself. We see if alcohol is involved, if they were wearing dark clothing, if headlights were on.” Other factors can be rain or snow and whether the driver had the ability to see the pedestrian.
The accident investigation tries to determine what happened.
“It’s not always a clear-cut case until we can determine all of the facts,” he said.
That was a relief to me as a driver that had a close brush with catastrophe, since I left the scene wondering whether - even with all of the factors that left me scared and angry - I still could have ended up in the legal system had something happened.
I’ve already watched our coverage of crosswalk accidents raise awareness in Ann Arbor of the dangers pedestrians and drivers can face if they’re not paying attention to what’s happening on the roads.
But this isn’t just about crosswalks. It’s about the need to use them. To know that someone dressed in black or navy has little nighttime visibility.
And to know that drivers - from the best ones with no distractions to the ones who shouldn’t be on the road at all - don’t want to hit you. But they might. And they might not be able to help it.
“We can provide all of the safety mechanisms in the world, “ Schick said, “but unless people use it, they can put themselves at risk.”