Some incidents encountered during a career in policing stick with you for life and sometimes resurface later on as lessons learned. This memory involved a mother dropping her young son off for a birthday party by pulling over and stopping on the right side of the street. He exited the car and excited to join the festivities, ran to the back and darted across the street. He was struck and killed by a passing vehicle.
I was sent to the hospital at the beginning of the investigation to check on the mother and child because we did not know of the child’s condition at the time. I knew the woman personally because her older son was in the Cub Pack I volunteered with as a leader. Her anguish was terrible to see and I have no doubt that she will spend the rest of her life wishing that she had taken the extra time to pull into the driveway and let her son out of the car on safe ground.
One of my co-workers dealt with the driver of the vehicle that struck the boy so I did not get to see him. Do you think that he will ever forget that day? How many times will he go over the incident in his mind and try to see what he could have done to produce a different outcome?
All of this flashed through my mind when I followed behind a pickup truck one morning last week. Children wait for the school bus on the side of the street near my home. There were already children and adults waiting ahead on my right.
The pickup moved over into the oncoming lane and stopped across from the group. Instant deja vu.
I slowed immediately and proceeded at a walking pace between the group and the pickup, watching both sides for movement across the road. No one crossed and I was able to pass by safely.
What was going on in the mind of the pickup driver? Why not pull over to the right side of the street and stop? The vehicle had no businesess being on the wrong side of the road. In addition, the stop must be made with the vehicle at the right hand edge of the roadway.
All the driver had really done was managed to add more confusion to the situation.
In retrospect, despite what I had remembered from my past, the confusion here extended to me as well.
I had a duty not to collide with a pedestrian, especially a child, and in this situation had already inferred the possibility of one being present.
In general, you are required to pass by an overtaken vehicle on the left. There is an exception to this rule when there is an unobstructed lane on the right, as there was here. However, that pass on the right can only be done if it is safe to do. Both the pickup on the wrong side of the road and the possibility of a child getting out of it to wait for the school bus made the circumstances unsafe.
I should have stopped and stayed stopped until the situation resolved itself. Moving into a position of possible conflict regardless of how slow I was going was a poor choice.
Sometimes we can make all manner of errors when we drive and it still turns out all right in the end. However, don’t let those errors become the default setting.