Yesterday I had a near incident on my evening commute with a distracted driver. Having been a commuter for the past ten years or so I’ve developed a knack for trusting my instincts and knowing when I’m about to be cutoff and in this case my instincts served me well. What surprised me this time was the driver’s reaction, which was one I had never experienced.
I was riding behind a car for a bit during rush hour, long enough to notice the driver was on the phone (which is legal here in Pennsylvania). As has become my habit, I assumed I was invisible. As we approached a major intersection our single lane split into two, one for left turns and one for going straight ahead or for turning right. The car I was following veered left (driver still on the phone) I veered right to make a right turn; but as I began to pass her she veered right again toward my lane causing me to brake suddenly.
I had that natural moment of anger and annoyance and her window was down so I let her know it might be a good idea to hang up and drive. I made the hang up motion with my right hand and to my surprise she actually did. Not only did she hang up, but she also turned, looked back directly at me, and clasped her hands and tilted her head (as if in prayer) to offer me a silent apology. I have to admit it melted my anger and I was touched that she was willing to own her mistake. Nothing ruins righteous anger like an honest apology.
I try to treat each incident differently, some are especially egregious (aggressive driving for instance) but others are just people allowing themselves to be distracted and who among us has never been distracted while driving? Something inside me just said, “she didn’t mean it, she’s sorry” so I returned her gesture. I’ve so often been ignored in those situations that it was nice that someone took ownership of a mistake and I was grateful. At this point she was in front of me with her right turn signal on. The light turned green and, you guessed it, she went straight through the intersection.
Some days you get annoyed, some downright furious, others you just can’t help but be amused. I rode home thinking maybe I had made an impression, maybe she’d be more careful with the phone and maybe, just maybe, she’ll watch out for motorcyclists in the future. I’m not overly hopeful about that last bit; but either way I’ll stay alert, and especially so around distracted drivers, I’ll get angry when it’s warranted and forgive when forgiveness is sought. It was one of those times when overreaction would’ve been too much. I may have learned something as well; everyone makes mistakes, a little understanding, an apology, and forgiveness felt better than riding home angry.