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Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Second to React

This is Steven Petrick posting.

Earlier this week I was taking Jean and her dog home. I drive this route almost every time I leave the office to head home.

The difference this time is that the car in front of me suddenly dodged to the left. Dodged is the term, as there was an obstacle in the roadway.

I was already somewhat alert, having noted above the top of that car that something out of the ordinary seemed to be going on with the traffic, but I had failed to make the connection that it was something in my lane of traffic.

We were on I-27 southbound. This is a three lane highway at this point, and we were in the right hand lane, moving at the speed limit of 60 MPH.

The car dodging out of the way revealed a chair in the center of the roadway, obviously having fallen from some vehicle.

All sorts of information flooded my brain.

Hitting the chair would most likely cause "cosmetic" damage to the front of the car. The chances of debris being kicked and coming through the windscreen were virtually nil. There was the possibility of a punctured radiator, or a punctured oil pan, possibly a broken brake line if I ran over the chair, so it was preferable to avoid impact.

Braking was not possible. The immobile nature of the obstacle combined with the speed meant that it was inside of the stopping distance, and braking so hard to try to avoid impact would have a grave risk of the car behind me impacting, perhaps setting off a chain reaction.

Dodging to the left, the option taken by the car ahead of me, was not available because I had traffic to my left (paying attention to traffic flow is important, especially when so many people are exceeding posted speed limits by more than five miles per hour). Dodging right was an option, the area was paved (it being a raised part of the roadway), but there was a concrete barrier on that side that would need to be taken into account.

On top of this, concern for Jean (I tend to be more cautious when driving if someone else is in the vehicle, if I make a mistake and harm myself it is all on me, but others have a right not to go over the cliff with me).

Jean also saw the obstacle, and was reacting. She said something, but my focus was elsewhere and I honestly did not hear what she said other than as a noise, and otherwise simply saw her in motion as she was trying to take some action.

Having assessed all of the variables, I dodged to the right, evading impact with the chair and missing the barrier and continued on down the highway after re-entering my lane.

I then took the next exit, intent on circling back around to remove the chair. Jean suggesting that this was too dangerous and the police should be called to accomplish this. While I did not disagree with her,  I felt the time interval was too great (how much more time would it take for an officer to arrive than for me to turn around and get it done). As it happened, by the time I got back to the point in question, someone else had already done the deed, moving the chair to the side of the road.

Even so, it is amazing how much data can flow through that organic computer when confronted with a need to make a critical decision.