Sunday Commentary: Cars, Follow the Law

This was our 2009 Honda that was totaled in August. A close look shows that while there was heavy damage, the passenger compartment was engineered well and remained intact
This was our 2009 Honda that was totaled in August. A close look shows that while there was heavy damage, the passenger compartment was engineered well and remained intact

I see a recent letter to the editor imploring bikes to follow the law. The complaints are noted, with many bicyclists flaunting traffic laws, failing to use lights “or reflective markers on their clothing or bicycles at night. They compound the problem by wearing dark clothing.”

But I have a different view – cars don’t follow the law either. And I have stories to back it up. Since March of 2014, my wife and I have each had our cars hit three times. We have had two cars totaled in that time. Four of the times were in the city of Davis. None of those times were we declared at fault. And, fortunately, in no instance was someone injured. In at least one case, that fact could be considered a miracle.

Worse yet, I can recall no fewer than three near misses in the last year. I believe there are ongoing problems in several parts of town.

It all started last March when my wife was driving our two youngest to school. She was on westbound Cowell, and the light had turned green at the corner of Mace. She started to proceed, but a northbound car failed to slow at the red light on Mace and careened into her. Fortunately, it missed the passenger compartment, and our car, while in bad condition, was not totaled – this time.

No sooner had we gotten the car repaired but a car side-swiped us on I-80 by the toll booth at the Bay Bridge. Less damage to repair this time.

My problems started on Election Day, I had dropped the kids off at Montgomery. I was backing out of the parking spot, when a van that had already passed the spot suddenly saw the spot and went into reverse quickly. My dashcam did not catch the collision visually but was able to show my car had stopped going backwards for one and a half seconds when the collision occurred. My car was technically totaled, though I was able to drive it for nine months as a salvage before buying a new car in July.

A few weeks later a car backed into my parked car in a parking lot. Fortunately, I was not there and there no damage. Were it not for my landlord, the person would not have stopped.

Finally, this spring, I was waiting for a parking space to open up in the Starbucks parking lot in North Davis when a car backed directly into me, knocking out headlights and causing minor damage.

The coup de grâce, however, was my niece this August was driving our car on I-5. She was in the left-most lane when she saw a car moving into her lane. She tried to pull into the median, but got hit and ended up spinning to the right-most lane. The car flipped upside down but, miraculously, she was uninjured.

This was literally two or three weeks after we bought the other car, and we had to make a second purchase.

I have a nice collection of dashcam footage. There was the person who suddenly pulled from a right-turn lane, pulling onto Cowell suddenly instead of merging from Mace, doing a u-turn directly in front of my car. There was a left turn as I drove northbound on B where the car tried to jump the light at 3rd Street and I had to slam on my brakes as they turned in front of my oncoming car. Finally, the most scary was also on B, crossing Russell at a green light when a car went flying through the intersection running the light by at least five seconds, and I again narrowly averted getting hit.

The downtown remains a huge problem with people failing to understand order of right of way at four-way stops. This eventually resulted in the bike meets car incident I caught on my dashcam and posted from last winter. There are also the problems of bicyclists running those stop signs, and delivery vehicles stopping and people failing to understand how to go around them.

Finally, one of my biggest concerns is the street I live on in south Davis. There are lots of kids living on the block, including mine. Cars frequently drive down the street at 35 to 40 mph. There are many times they fail to yield to pedestrians crossing, including young kids. The most amazing thing, from my perspective, is some of those cars have kids inside.

The city has thus far failed to do anything to stop this problem.

We have also had frequent problems with the way people drive around the schools. I sent a dashcam to the police because, as we were turning into Montgomery, a car piggybacked on another car through a stop sign as we were in the process of our left turn, and they actually had to swerve around us to avoid collision.

These are just incidents in the last year and a half. These are just incidents I have personally observed. I am tired of listening to people complain about bikes being unsafe when cars drive way too fast for our roads, they are paying scattered attention, often holding phones and wearing ear buds, and they drive impatiently and with a disregard for human life.

The difference is a bicyclist is more likely to get hurt or injured when they fail to adhere to the rules of the road. Cars are a multi-ton weapon that can kill and maim in an instant.

My call for more patrol officers to patrol the downtown is amplified by a call for more traffic officers. For all the fear that we have following the stabbing, the much bigger threat of death is bad driving. There are far more automobile fatalities than murders.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Biddlin

    I’m pretty sure I’ve noted the awful driving and biking habits I observe in Davis, the stop sign and red light running being the worst, but I wonder if it all isn’t caused by that famous Davis sense of entitlement?


      1. Biddlin

        Actually, in my South Sac neighbourhood, I walk or bike without many incidents of substance. The most hazardous driving I encounter is usually at the Nugget parking lot , on Florin rd. We have a lot of retired people, who tend to be more cautious when driving and a lot of police cruisers, which may be a deterrent to traffic law violations. Out in the county is a different story, with stop-sign runners being the rule rather than the exception. I’ve taken emergency vehicle operations courses and performance driving courses and think they are worthwhile and worth repeating as we age. Just like gun safety, I don’t think many people take driving safety nearly seriously enough. And yes, Davis parents, dropping off and picking up their kinder are frequently guilty of seeing the spot open and taking it, at all costs.


  2. zaqzaq

    In the article David describes inattentive drivers causing accidents.  Not the blatant disregard for stop signs and red lights that is common behavior for bicyclists.  There was one time I was driving to the gym and came to a stop at a stop sign and a bicyclist all decked out in a neon green top, bike pants and a helmet on his fancy bike blew through the stop sign.  I drove to the next intersection and stopped in the left turn lane.   The same bicyclist blew through that red light making a left turn.  I proceeded on the green light and came to a stop at a stop sign where I wanted to make a right turn only to observe the same bicyclist approaching.  Although I had the right of way to make the turn I knew he would not stop so I hesitated in initiating my turn only to have him blow through that stop sign.  And that is only one incident involving one bicyclist.   I have often observed helmeted mothers with children in the pull cart approach a stop sign, make a perfect arm signal and then not slow down as they blow through the stop sign.  It is a much more common practice for bicyclist to blatantly ignore traffic signs or signals than for motorists.  They treat stop signs as an inconvenience that can be ignored.  I have not observed that same blatant disregard for traffic signals displayed by motorists.  It is one reason that I am an advocate for mandatory helmets for bicyclists.  If we can mandate helmets for motorcyclists, seat belt use for motorists, and helmets for minor bicyclists why not mandate helmets for all bicyclists.  To a certain extent we are protecting them from themselves and their sense of entitlement that traffic signals do not apply to them.

    1. darelldd

      >> In the article David describes inattentive drivers causing accidents

      No, he did not. Unless he has edited it in the meantime. Crashes and collisions are not accidents. Drivers cause crashes and collisions. They cause billions in property damage, and they kill people. They do not cause accidents.

      Your anecdotes are noted. Please also note that in big, round numbers, 40,000 people are killed by drivers every year in the US (and millions more injured). While four (4) people are killed by cyclists. Do you want to hear my stories are see my videos of things that drivers do illegally and dangerously every day that threaten my life? I’ll assume no, and make this post shorter.

      Yes, be annoyed at cyclists who don’t ride predictably. Even be outraged if you must. But be deathly afraid of the drivers who are not paying attention, who do not understand the vehicle code, who don’t have a clue about the responsibility they have while piloting a multi-ton vehicle, and who do not know anything more about the rules of the road than “cyclists should stop at stop signs, because that’s the law.” Those are the folks who are going to kill you. Not the cyclists on a 20 pound bike. 40,000 compared to 4. Count the orders of magnitude.

      As for helmet laws… you asked why we don’t mandate them for cyclists. And there are many, many compelling reasons. One of the biggest is that bicycle helmets do not make our road users safer (as can motorcycle helmets and seat belts due to the speeds involved, and the control of the  (deadly projectile) vehicle when things go bad). Bicycle helmets can mitigate certain injuries, of course. But they do not make anybody “safer.” And you know what? We’d protect just as many car drivers from injury if we forced them to wear helmets too. Yup… head injuries in automobile crashes are significant. Of course head injuries in the shower are huge as well. And pedestrians! We should put helmets on them, so when they’re hit by cars, they’ll be “safer,” yes? So certainly… let’s all wear helmets at all times. Just understand that helmets do not make us “safer” they only protects us from certain, specific injury after all safeguards have failed.

      Our roads are designed for the size, speed and truncated senses of automobiles and their drivers. And though pedestrians are closer to cyclists in speed, weight and ability to kill others – pedestrians are not required to stop at stop signs when crossing an intersection. They can simply cross when safe to do so. Cyclists, however, are treated like little cars. Yet… cyclists are offered the ragged left-overs of road design. Little lanes in the door zones of the parked cars that are often filled with green waste. Yay. Cyclists are to follow the car laws, but cyclists aren’t given the same rights to the same road to use.

      You do realize that we have more laws on the books than “stop at stop signs and red lights” right? And may we assume that you never roll stop signs? That you never tap the accelerator when the light turns yellow? That you never exceed the speed limit? That you never turn right across a bike lane? That you never cross over a double yellow to pass a slower vehicle? That you don’t pull out of a parking spot into another vehicle’s path? Because, surprisingly, I see drivers do these things every day that I’m on the road. And sometimes these actions kill people.

      Entitled? There’s plenty to go around, I guess.


  3. Matt Williams

    The competition for parking spaces downtown also contributes.  I was at 3rd and F headed east this week and a young woman zoomed through the stop sign  on northbound F at at least 25 mph because she had seen an open parking space in front of Panera Bread as she approached the intersection.  She wanted to get to it before anyone else did.

    1. Tia Will

      The competition for parking spaces downtown also contributes.”

      Sometimes I think that this is more mind set than reality. Yesterday, outside the  Varsity we witnessed a near miss in which a car cut off a bicyclist, close enough to cause my partner to gasp, in order to take an open spot in front of the Avid Reader. The irony was, the driver had no competition for the spot. He was the only car moving on the block at the time, he just didn’t bother to look around him when he saw the open space.

      1. Matt Williams

        I agree those situations exist too Tia.  The one I observed didn’t have competition once she got to the space, but as she was approaching the stop sign and the intersection on F from the south, as she spied the open space on 3rd to her left, she acted to be the first one to that open space, and in the process blasted through the stop sign.

  4. Tia Will

    Just one more factor to add to the mix. Pedestrians also do not follow the law . As a frequent visitor to downtown, I am a daily witness to ( and for full disclosure, and occasional miscreant) in jay walking. The bigger issue that I see however, as jay walkers typically watch for oncoming traffic prior to stepping out, is pedestrians who do not so much as glance for oncoming cars when they step off the curb at crosswalks. To not even bother to look to see if a car is in the intersection before stepping off the curb is literally putting your own life at risk and yet this is a daily occurrence.

      1. hpierce

        Maybe Alan should have used the words “exacerbated by” instead of “due to”.  Really don’t think anyone who is familiar with the downtown could refute him, had he word-smithed more.

    1. Dave Hart

      Correction, Alan, the pedestrian problems, like the car and bicycle problems are due to self-centered, discourteous behavior.  The “bulbs” and other engineered or unengineered infrastructure are more or less an excuse to be discourteous.


  5. Don Shor

    There are far more automobile fatalities than murders.

    How many automobile fatalities have there been in Davis?

    I think we have now established that people who drive cars, people who ride bikes, and people who walk sometimes break the law and do dangerous things.

  6. hpierce

    “The city has thus far failed to do anything to stop this problem.”  Probably one of the most inane/gratuitous [and patently FALSE] statements ever made by you, David.  What the F would you have the city do to stop people from being idiots?  For example, the City has used speed sign boards when a recurring problem is a) reported [usually doesn’t happen], AND b) where excessive speed is believed to be a problem.  The City has tried to use educational means (‘Street Smarts’). Also, on-going and targeted police enforcement of laws by PD.

    Maybe a cop at every intersection/street segment in the City, 24/7?

    Either your family or mine is on a weird side of the bell curve.  Been driving 44 years, and one time has any car I’ve driven been hit, and it was a low-speed rear-end by some jerk who was reading an early-era variable message ad-billboard for the race-track he was headed to.  I was 17.  [CHP officer actually saw it, made sure Dad and I were OK, told us to leave, and cited the jerk] Spouse driving 42 years, no collisions involving another vehicle.  Three children driving 13-19 years each.  One minor collision involving another car (when the middle one had been only driving 18 months… mutual lapses of attention by both drivers).

    Yeah, we need to all be better, more attentive motor vehicle drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.  Are you suggesting we don’t criticize bad behavior from one segment without criticizing all segments?  I and my family are all ‘segments’.

      1. David Greenwald

        I have attempted to get the city to do a few things here and have not succeeded. The comment was in specific regard to the traffic issue on my street.

        1. Anon

          Just because you did not succeed in getting your requests acted upon (perhaps they were not good solutions, perhaps the funding is not there to do what you want) does not mean city staff does not regularly attempt to make the city’s streets safe. In general, this city has done an excellent job in making this town bike and pedestrian friendly relative to other jurisdictions.

    1. Frankly

      Never been hit and never hit anyone else in my 40 years of significant driving experience except once in our new Honda Civic coming home to Davis from Sacramento late at night… was in the fast lane where I usually end up… noted a weirdness in the space-time-continuum a couple hundreds of yards ahead, reflexively swerved to the right lane (nobody was next to me… more about that next).  Flew past a flat black Camaro that had spun out and was half into the fast lane without any lights on.  It put a crease in the fenders of my Civic where they protruded .  Would have been dead had I note had the instinct to move over.  I was going 70 MPH.  The driver was drunk and asleep at the wheel.

      That was it… the only accident I have every had.

      Other than certainly some luck, I believe I owe my lack of accidents to one thing… I see everyone else on the road as a compete idiot and a danger to me.

      When I drive I don’t just drive defensively, I drive like it is a demolition derby where I am intent of exiting the event unscathed.  I read the “body language” of other people on the road and can often anticipate their next idiot move.  For example, just this week driving up I-5 noted a car merging in and just had the sense that a distracted idiot was driving and would just continue to merge into the fast lane without looking and without any signal… right into my great big new white truck.  I slowed down reflexively and put my hand over my steering wheel and sure enough here the idiot comes.  I lay on my horn and he swerves back and gives my a sheepish look that matched his likely low IQ as I continued on.

      This type of thing is very routine for me.  I drive with purpose to avoid accidents.

      And back to the right lane being open.  I drive on the freeway methodically trying to find and get to open space to drive in.  I absolutely will do my best to distance myself from large tractor trailer rigs and drivers that are erratic and demonstrate lower driver IQ.

      I am very wary of being stopped in a parking lot… always looking to see if there are any people in the cars that pose a risk to me.  Ready to lay on my horn… but generally not sitting still for too long.

      In Davis, the game requires tracking all the movement and potential movement that can happen at any given time.  It is a game made more complex by the fact that Davis people don’t always move like normal people.  For example, the girl that comes to a stop with her car oriented in a way that indicates she will be making a right turn, but then turns left instead like it was a normal move for her.  The bike rider that appears to be turning and then blows through the intersection.  The pedestrians texting while walking.  The drivers that refuse to go though the intersection even with waiting pedestrians waving them on… thus causing all other drivers and pedestrians to get out of turn and increase risk of crash.

      Drive like everyone around you is an idiot and accident waiting to happen and you will reduce the risk of being involved in one.

        1. hpierce

          darell, I join you in wanting to clarify the difference between “crashes” and “accidents”.  Sub-categories of “crashes” include “criminal acts”, and “stupids”.

        2. darelldd

          Cheers. And thanks.

          Yes, it has become a big thing with me. Words are important… and this one word is shaping too much of the discussions surrounding injury and death on our roads! Few people realize but the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has long ago removed “accident” from all written and verbal communications. They put out a press release entitled “Crashes are not accidents.” And I’m fully onboard.

          Yet it prevails. For some reason, every time something hits something else (usually on the road) it is an “accident.” And we need to change that so we can look for ways to mitigate the crashes. There’s no way to stop “accidents.”

        3. hpierce

          Yeah darell…  have tried to “carry that torch” [personally and as a traffic engineering professional]  for ~ 15 years, but often feel like the ‘voice crying in the wilderness’.  Words are reflections of thought, and sloppy use of words leads to sloppy thought.  IMO.

  7. Frankly

    Hyper population density combined with a bunch of inexperienced and distracted student drivers, bikers and walkers… combined with the rest of the population aging and losing response time and eyesight… it is not a surprise that Davis is one of the most difficult little cities to travel around.

    1. Topcat

      Hyper population density combined with a bunch of inexperienced and distracted student drivers, bikers and walkers… combined with the rest of the population aging and losing response time and eyesight…

      Yes, and a population that wants to drive everywhere including driving their children a short distance to school. We talk big about being “environmentally conscious” and reducing greenhouse gasses, but our actions are not consistent with our talk.

      I even know people that drive four blocks to go to the gym 🙂 Where’s the logic in that?

      1. hpierce

        The worst part is where parents are driving their kids to school, because “it’s too dangerous” for the kids to walk or bike to school ‘because of all the cars’.  Walt Kelly had it right… “we have met the enemy…”  Holmes is a classic example.  When will they ever learn?

  8. Anon

    These are just incidents I have personally observed. I am tired of listening to people complain about bikes being unsafe when cars drive way too fast for our roads, they are paying scattered attention, often holding phones and wearing ear buds, and they drive impatiently and with a disregard for human life.

    Bikes should obey the law, cars should obey the law, pedestrians should obey the law.  To ignore one mode of transportation and only criticize another is counterproductive.

    Secondly, I have to agree with hpierce, here.  I have driven for nearly 50 years, and only been involved in two very minor fender benders, one in a parking lot.  My children, who have been driving for between 15-25 years have had no more than one accident apiece, neither of them their fault and no one hurt.  None of us has totaled a car, just minor dents.

    Thirdly, I think we need to keep things in perspective.  Go to San Francisco or LA if you want to see some serious traffic problems.  Additionally, I can tell you from personal experience, CA drivers are some of the worst in the country, especially on the freeways, except perhaps drivers in Boston, MA that blow through stop lights on narrow streets as a matter of course!

    1. darelldd

      >> Bikes should obey the law, cars should obey the law, pedestrians should obey the law.  To ignore one mode of transportation and only criticize another is counterproductive.

      David is responding to the criticizing of a single mode.

      It is a mistake to plunk all road users in one basket. It’s like saying that we should regulate spit wads and sling shots the same way we regulate hand guns. Responsibility of driving is WAY larger than the responsibility of cycling and walking. Yes, of course we should all “obey the law.” But the owner with the bigger weapon has far more responsibility.

      And while obeying the law is a great goal, protecting the safety and rights of other road users is far more important. And that doesn’t always coincide with blind adherence to the law. (and I should point out again, that very few road users know more than the bare basics of the “law” that people keep telling me we should all follow). The “law” happens to be an enormous book that makes the phone book look small and exciting.

      1. hpierce

        Laws [particularly related to transportation modes] were not developed in a vacuum… they were meant to enforce common sense… when it isn’t “common”.  Was taught as a referee to honor the ‘spirit’ (common sense) of the law, over the ‘letter of the law’.  I have no problem with a bicyclist (or even a motorist), at a four-way intersection, where they have a sight distance adequate to realistically see there is no threat either to or from them, slow and go, even at a stop sign or a signalized intersection.  Yet, too many motorists, bicycle drivers and pedestrians lack common sense.  

        Perhaps we should tolerate more crashes, even if it increases incarcerations or deaths, to clean out the gene pool. [JUST KIDDING! sorta’]

  9. Anon

    Frankly: “For example, just this week driving up I-5 noted a car merging in and just had the sense that a distracted idiot was driving and would just continue to merge into the fast lane without looking and without any signal… right into my great big new white truck.  I slowed down reflexivly and put my hand over my steering wheel and sure enough here the idiot comes.  I lay on my horn and he swerves back and gives my a sheepish look that matched his likely low IQ as I continued on.”

    I was taught by my dad, in a situation like that, to merge left into another lane if possible, to avoid the driver exiting onto the highway from an onramp.  I will assume you could not do so because a car was already to your left.  I agree that assuming other drivers are not necessarily going to use good judgment and always keeping an eye on what is going on around you is the key to keeping out of accidents.  However, I don’t necessarily think the high speeds a lot of CA drivers use is exercising good judgment.  I have witnessed cars on freeways doing 90 mph and above.  One of my adult daughters drives me absolutely crazy when she does 80mph on the freeway.  STUPID.  That is NOT how I taught her.  Sigh…

  10. Adam Smith

    I’ve been driving in SF, NYC  and Davis for the past 30 years, and have not had a single car hit me nor I have I hit another car.  That being said, I try not to drive in downtown Davis after dusk.  The combination of autos with  headlights, stop signs, pedestrians, bicyclists and their collective failure to follow the rules of the road cause me to avoid downtown Davis in the evening.  I’d rather drive in SF than Davis once nightfall occurs.

    I don’t know any family of only 2 drivers that has had David’s experience.  I shudder to think what he must be paying for auto insurance, even though his family has not been at fault.


  11. 2cowherd

    When I moved to Davis in 2004 I routinely saw traffic officers on the road and my sense is more drivers obeyed the speed limits then. Now I rarely see a traffic enforcement officer and I often see drivers exceeding the speed limit and drivers in my neighborhood rolling right thru stop signs ( I assume that they also know that there is very little traffic enforcement in Davis anymore)

  12. Barack Palin

    Set up on any 4 way stop sign corner in the downtown and count the number of cars that full out run stop signs and the number of bikers that blow through them.  I’d be surprised if you even see one car but will see several bikes.

    1. Alan Miller

      Also note how many pedestrians stand on the bulb outs, then turn and cross into the crosswalk without looking, or just walk across the shortened (because of the bulb out) crosswalk without looking.  A car already accelerating from the far side of the intersection has the right of way, but unless they want to hit a pedestrian, they have to stop in the intersection, pooching the works.  It’s not that it isn’t the pedestrian’s fault, it’s that with bulb outs, there is the illusion of safety and right of way for the cars is ignored, and they are upon the pedestrians stepping off the curb with less margin of error because the crosswalk is shorter.  Jack hammer the F-ing things out of existence.

    2. darelldd

      I’d need a definition of “full out run” vs “not stop.”

      Turns out that not stopping, no matter how less or more “full out” is illegal.

      I won’t defend idiots who steal right-of-way from anybody, no matter what they’re piloting. But we need to decide if we wish to make our roads safer, or we wish to be less annoyed. At least to set our priorities for enforcement and such.

      1. Barack Palin

        You won’t see any cars full out run the stop signs, maybe some Hollywood stops.  You will see many bikers ride through the stop signs like there not even there.

  13. PhilColeman

    What a comfort to find that summary judgments, based on visual cues, by operators of motor vehicles is limited only to law enforcement officers. The legions of critics who condemn inherent and overt bias by the police patrols are, themselves, totally free of such biases themselves. They’d never make sweeping conclusions of physical characteristics of drivers such as their age, nor would they assess their level of concentration based on the “Student” banner they have tattooed on their forehead. That must be how they can distinguish every young driver being a student or not. And there is another banner across their back saying, “Distracted.”

    Nope, only the police do these unfair biased portrayals of sub-culture groups.

    Then, we come to the time-honored depiction of the local police relentlessly stopping people of color for “no reason at all.” Constantly being stopped and badgered and so on and so on. And yet, here we have the mass portrayal of the local police being indifferent to traffic enforcement, a severe decline in patrol presence, and presumably nobody being seen stopped by the police, color or ethnicity notwithstanding.

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