Cycling Safety

posted: February 18th, 2012 04:45 am | 1Comment

CdM’s Newest Driver

By Frank Peters

I just came home from the DMV; my 16-&#189-year-old son just got his drivers license. You’ve been warned.

“Why do you look so nervous?” the driving instructor says with a jolly smile as he approaches our car.

“Because I’m a lousy driver.” My son seldom graces his discussions with similar humor at home. “I like lousy drivers; I hit them in the head with my clipboard.” I know this is going to work out just fine, but as a parent you worry, right?

My wife was astute enough to prepare a Driving Contract, and the night before the test gives a parent some leverage. Download a copy; it’s got a lot of good guidelines spelled out. I signed it first, then prior to going out for the evening I went upstairs to change. While I’m still thinking about how great it is to have him at least acknowledge many of these fine details; I think of one more — that he consider all trips to RiteAid, Ace Hardware and Albertsons as walkable and not an excuse to drive a half mile. When I return to the kitchen and share this new insight, he’s delighted to tell me he’s already signed the contract. It’s hard to stay a step ahead of teens.

My dad was a great driver. Of course, we all think we’re good drivers. That’s the joke at Traffic School, “Raise your hand if you think you’re an above average driver?” Not many think of themselves otherwise. My interview with “Carjacked!” author Anne Lutz Fernandez confirms this self-image bias. But dad was good at teaching me to drive, so one goal I’ve had is to be as good while instructing my kids. Life doesn’t always work out the way you hope, though. My constructive criticisms became instant arguments, and little instruction occurred. But as a dear friend once said, your children will listen, even if you don’t think they are. My particular emphasis of proper driving behavior has focused on consideration of pedestrians.

There aren’t many Bike Safety Committee meetings that Mayor Gardner won’t find the opportunity to say how her involvement with promoting bike safety has changed her driving. I know exactly what she means because the same is true for me. You can’t begin to increase your understanding of bike safety without learning about the terrible consequences for these vulnerable road users. Even the hardest of hearts will soften when you learn of the injuries and fatalities — two dead just last week here in Southern California.

How has my driving changed? I’m moving a lot slower now that my awareness of accidents is so finely tuned. As I observe my son, probably much like your son or daughter of a similar age — his peripheral vision is about 50 percent better than mine, his reaction times — no contest. My son drives into traffic and sees cars merging from the left or right, or both at the same time, and sees problems that just require the right solution, probably like the video games he plays. For me, I’m slowing down, but when I suggest a similar option to him I’m greeted with, “Dad, I’m already under the speed limit,” and likely he is.

As many of us older drivers know, although we can’t compete on reaction times, vision or dexterity; we more than make up for this in experience. Haven’t we all heard that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert — you name the subject, whether it’s learning to play the violin or driving a car. My son has about 100 hours behind the wheel.

I’m on the phone with my wife while he’s out on his driving test, and as he pulls back into the parking lot I can see the proud smile on his face. Now it’s my turn at levity, “You’re done with him now; I have to deal with his driving.” “If he didn’t pass we agreed, I get to keep the car,” and it’s all smiles as we part company. “Remember to scan those intersections,” and I get the message; the kid still has some things to learn.

We’re on our way home, driving through Mariner’s Mile. “I learned at City Council that this is the most dangerous road in the City; the most accidents happen here.” He’s assured in his skills and handles the traffic quite well. As we move further down the road there’s a cyclist on the right and no bike lane; I offer advice to move to the left to give him wide berth. But of course, I can’t see what’s coming along on the left, but in a minute I will. My son slows appropriately yet stays behind the cyclist in the narrowing lane — just as three motorcycles zoom past on the left, slicing through the slowing traffic. He had no option to move to the left and I could tell he was pleased with how he handled the situation. “That probably would’ve been an instant pass,” he implies his instructor would’ve approved. And he probably would’ve.

A member of the 2009 Newport Beach Task Force on Cycling Safety, Frank Peters founded and writes about his cycling adventures at

One Response to “Cycling Safety”



February 18th, 2012

Imagine if the DMV put more emphasis on young motorists behavior around cyclists.

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