Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Road rage and wheelchairs: enforcing pedestrian laws

We've all run into drivers who show signs of road rage toward others. They overreact to whatever happens on the road, sometimes shouting, waving their arms, or even using their car as a weapon. There are cases where drivers have pulled guns on others for being cut off or otherwise "dissed".

It's tough enough to deal with when you're in another vehicle, but for a pedestrian it's even more difficult. And the more I use my power chair to get around in what is a somewhat congested area, the more I see how drivers with road rage present a problem for wheelchair users.

I don't cross major highways, but I do cross at intersections that run into highly trafficked areas, like a strip mall. There's no light, so I just wait for traffic to stop, trying to look behind me and around me before I do. However, cars are much quicker than power chairs, especially when you're going from a complete stop and once in a while, I start crossing as a car is coming up behind me. Most drivers wait a few seconds and then turn behind me, but there is the occasional person with road rage who leans on his/her horn, shouts, or turns their car into the intersection before my chair has cleared it, practically touching the back of my chair as they do.(This has also happened at less trafficked intersections, by the way, where people "push" my wheelchair with their front bender while I'm still in the crossroads.)

I consider this behavior road rage from my point of view as a wheelchair user. Honking one's horn , shouting loudly with/without profanities and turning one's car right behind a wheelchair user is dangerous. It startles the wheelchair user, who is trying to navigate across the crosswalk which may contain potholes, debris or other distractions requiring attention. And, of course, it creates an inherently dangerous situation because the driver's car may hit the wheelchair if it stops unexpectedly.

Wheelchair users are pedestrians who have the right of way while crossing the street. Drivers need to remember that people using wheelchairs have limits in physical function that can affect how fast they can get across the street. (That's, uh, why they're in a wheelchair.) I know this seems obvious, but you might be surprised to see how many times drivers ignore this and come right up behind my wheelchair as my quaddy little hand rests on the joystick. Power chairs are not other vehicles. They are wheelchairs.

After some near misses out there, I'm convinced that as more of us in wheelchairs take to the streets, we need better enforcement of pedestrian laws so we can safely share not only the sidewalks, but the crosswalks.

As cases emerge where wheelchair users are ticketed for allegedly violating pedestrian laws, I wonder: where are the tickets for these drivers? Crossing the street should not feel like a death wish.


hotwheelz said...

I was hit in my wheelchair so I'm always glad to see this talked about. The guy who hit me blamed me which still blows my mind. I think it's hard to get some people to take responsibility for the fact that they're operating a two ton car that can smash us.

Nancy said...

"(This has also happened at less trafficked intersections, by the way, where people "push" my wheelchair with their front bender while I'm still in the crossroads.)"

Reading your post I was struck by the fact that if a car 'pushed' a walking pedestrian with their front bumper that would be considered assault with a deadly weapon or at the very least an accident.

Why is it that people have blinders on when they see someone in a wheelchair? They forget the person and just look at the tool they're using to get around.

It's all about education, I knucklehead at a time... ;-)

Ruth said...

hotw: I remember that you got hit last year :(

Nancy: I think it's about education and pushing for laws that protect wheelchair users. There are instances where current pedestrian laws aren't enforced but also where the laws conflict with the ADA - for example, if a town/city is not in compliance with the ADA with sidewalk repair, often a settlement will allow wheelchair users to go in the street even if a pedestrian law doesn't allow it until access is provided. The same should be true if snow is not removed.

In any event, laws need to be applied to everyone - for safety reasons. And we should all read the local laws so we're familiar with them and work toward changing what's unworkable.

Bob said...

My two cents. I don't think that some drivers will yield to wheelchairs. They drive like they're playing a video game and are frustrated by objects in their way and a wheelchair is just another object.

Ruth said...

Today when I went over there, a driver stopped politely and let me cross. I looked over and saw a police car in the parking lot who happened to be watching the area - who was in the driver's line of vision. It sure was nice to get a break from being afraid to cross! I do think policing drivers and an occasional visible presence helps - if nothing else, it can make people slow down and perhaps a few tickets for drivers here and there sends a message.

Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

Jeez, and I thought I had it bad cycling. I guess the greater the disparity in power, the easier it becomes to abuse the weak.

Cyclists are at least legally recognized as vehicular traffic.