Satnan: Drivers being ‘nice’ can have nasty outcomes

March 16, 2013

Kat Ryan knows the sound — and it is horrifying.

“When you think of that crunch of metal ... That sound — it is the worst sound ever,” she said.

In May 2006, Ryan was involved in a head-on collision in St. Louis. The other driver was going the wrong way, came around a corner and smashed into her beloved green Saturn at 45 mph. Despite having to be extracted from the car, she escaped unharmed. But that sound has stayed with her and last week she narrowly avoided hearing it again.

Ryan was driving south on U.S. Highway 65/Limit Avenue, approaching the intersection with West 32nd Street. She was in the left lane, preparing to move into the left-turn lane, and the right lane was backed up almost to Patricia’s Mexican and More restaurant. A motorist in the right lane stopped short of Plaza Avenue so they wouldn’t be blocking access to the road. But a driver on Plaza was trying to turn left onto northbound Limit, and the motorist stopped on Limit motioned them to cut across the highway, not seeing Ryan approaching from behind in the left lane.

Ryan said the driver coming out from Plaza shot in front of her, missing her car by mere inches. She was nearly a victim of “nice driving.”

“People think they are being nice until somebody gets into accident,” Ryan said. “They want to be nice, but they are not understanding how the road works. That is not how you are supposed to drive.”

Officer Casey Devorss, a member of the Sedalia Police Department’s traffic unit, backs up Ryan’s contention. He said he has worked several accident scenes where someone who motioned a driver out into traffic, only to see that driver get hit by another vehicle, have hung around to serve as a witness — not knowing that by motioning that driver out, they became liable in the collision.

Devorss offered a recommendation for those considering motioning someone out into traffic: Don’t do it.

“People want to be nice. They will see (a police car) and motion us out, but I never do that,” he said. “It’s just unsafe. I appreciate what they are trying to do, but I just motion to them, ‘No, you go ahead.’ ”

Devorss said it is a big problem at the McDonald’s on West Broadway Boulevard and Thompson Boulevard. Instead of coming out on Thompson and using the traffic light at the intersection, motorists will try to cross both eastbound lanes of Broadway to head west.

“There are safer ways to go,” Devorss said. “With Plaza, you should go over to 32nd and use the light. Go to a controlled intersection — it is always a safer route rather than trying to cross a 40 mph highway.”

Ryan had another recent near miss, on Thompson Boulevard in front of Westlakes Ace Hardware. Another motorist was talking on their mobile phone and rubbernecking a crash scene when they nearly merged into Ryan’s car.

“They didn’t see me until I was swerving to avoid them,” she said.

Missouri Revised Statutes Chapter 304, Section 304.820 reads: “(N)o person (21) years of age or younger operating a moving motor vehicle upon the highways of this state shall, by means of a hand-held electronic wireless communications device, send, read or write a text message or electronic message.”

There is nothing on the books to penalize motorists of any age for making calls while driving, and Devorss said since the statute is focused on just young drivers and texting it is hard to get a conviction; those facing the charge offer up the excuse that they were using phone apps such as a mapping program.

Devorss said Officer Victoria Kottman is working on a city ordinance concerning distracted driving that will go beyond mobile phones and include other external distractions, such as pets, eating and drinking, and grooming.

“Everyone is so focused on cell phones, but there are so many other distractions,” Devorss said.

Ryan said texting or talking on the phone while driving “is like smoking ... You shouldn’t do it and you know it.” She would like to see talking on mobile phones or texting while driving illegal for all motorists.

“I have an obsession to make a change,” she said. “I want to find out what I need to do to make that change happen, to make it better out there.”