A Request that Motorists Drive More Carefully and Politely During this Pandemic

April 9, 2020

Dear Motorists,

You have surely noticed that streets have many fewer cars on them, and that the edges have many more cyclists and pedestrians.  I realize that it is tempting to indulge the fantasy that we have suddenly landed on the open roads of a car commercial and zoom freely, but please let’s not.

With the pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home, many people are not getting the exercise that they used to, whether at the gym, walking to transit, or biking to work.  Kids are stuck at home — no recess, no Phys. Ed., and playgrounds and town fields are closed to prevent the spread of infection.  Ordinary socializing, at dinner, at church, in coffee shops, wherever, has also stopped for the same reasons.  As a result, people are walking, jogging, and biking, often with their kids, far more than they did before, and also socializing (at a safe distance) with friends that they encounter on the way.  If they didn’t, they’d go buggy, and probably be a lot less happy.

But the sidewalks are tiny; if people walking are to maintain a 6 foot separation, someone has to step into the street when they pass, and if someone is biking in the street they also need to separate from that pedestrian that just stepped in the road.  People now need to use the street for purposes other than driving; it’s a public way, meaning everyone, and transportation in general (and because these are primarily town roads, they’re paid for with property taxes, not gas taxes).

At the same time, because of what this pandemic has done to the hospitals, the risk is greater if anyone makes a bad mistake, and mistakes involving cars are extra-bad.  Hospitals are full of people capable of spreading COVID-19, and medical resources have been allocated away from everything else.  It’s a bad time to visit an ER.  Crashes are rare, but they happen, and right now any crash is a worse crash because medical care is compromised.  The biggest source of risk comes from cars; we (I am a driver — did you think I was not?) need to drive extra-carefully to compensate for the increased medical risk, and for the increased number of pedestrians and cyclists on the road.

And yes, asking drivers to slow down and take more time at intersections is an imposition, but your car does a lot for you that isn’t zooming down the road, and it still does all those things if you drive more carefully.  It still keeps the rain off.  If you don’t like the temperature, it still fixes that for you.  If you’d like to listen to music, it comes with a stereo.  Maybe you need to carry two weeks worth of groceries — it does that, too.  If you hit a pothole, it’s damage to the car, not your ankle —the car ER is not full of coronavirus, and they’d probably really appreciate the business right now.  And in this pandemic, it is downright relaxing to not have to think about masks or separation or any of that stuff.  And also in this pandemic, at least for now, you have all the parking you could want — so enjoy that, it’s just like being in a car commercial.  Just, please, don’t drive like you’re in a car commercial; take your time, go extra slow, be prepared for other people to be using the road, and share it with them.

And also, thank you very much for driving so much less.  The air is much cleaner, it’s a good deal quieter, most drivers are decently careful, but not quite enough people, and it is so easy to be seduced into speeding by the big empty road.

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