Dear Pittsburgh, please drive better!

One of my favorite activities is to go running through the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. I used to judge my runs based on the distance I covered, or the pace I achieved, or the total time I ran without stopping. But these days, I judge my runs based on how many times I nearly get killed by a passing motorist.

I don’t know if this phenomenon is specific to Pittsburgh (seems like it might be), or is more widespread throughout the country, but drivers have gotten significantly worse in the last few years. It’s now genuinely, literally dangerous to be on the road, whether you’re a fellow motorist, cyclist, or pedestrian.

Since our state requires a driving test only when first acquiring a license, and pretty much never again afterwards, I can see how it might be easy to forget the simple rules of road safety, so allow me to reiterate a couple of them while I have your attention (and feel free to pass these along to someone who you think might need a reminder):

The red octagonal symbol with the letters “STOP” inscribed in it means exactly what it says: stop, fully and completely, at the white line that is painted underneath it for your convenience. While stopped, take note of your surroundings, and check whether someone is about to cross the road in front of you, in which case remain stopped until the crossing is complete.

Of course the red sign mentioned above, as well as other signs, are only effective if you actually see them, which you can’t do if you’re looking at your phone instead. When you’re in the middle of driving your vehicle, put your phone down and do not look at it. Start your voice navigation app before leaving. Answer your friend’s text after you reach your destination. No matter how much you believe that you’re superior to other drivers and possess the attention bandwidth to do both things at once, you actually don’t. Please don’t wait until this fact is proved to you in the most tragic way possible.

There’s a theory that drivers have gotten more complacent because the safety features of our cars have gotten more advanced and sophisticated, so we can “afford” to pay less attention to the road. But the reality is that the sense of safety given by our modern vehicles is often a false one, driven by marketing tactics rather than actual data. It is never OK to let your attention to the road slip, and it’s never OK to use your own personal rules for obeying traffic signs.

So please, Pittsburgh, drive better!