Monday, March 10, 2008

Space Monkey = Me

Just over a week ago, I wrote about people zoning out. Among other things I wrote:
Be careful out there. Pay attention. You can be certain that somebody isn't. They may be jogging, they may be driving, they may be riding a bike.

All I can do is try to remember to be here now.
I really should take my own advice.

Maybe the time change had a bit to do with it but this morning as I was riding to work my mind was elsewhere. I was the space monkey I warn other folks to watch out for.

I prefer riding on the road instead of the trail, so once I cross the bridge onto Mercer Island, I turn onto North Mercer Way. And as I ride along instead of being here now, I was thinking too far ahead about a project waiting for me at work.

Just how spaced out can one person be? So spaced out that I didn't see the GIANT YELLOW SCHOOL BUS with the FLASHING STOP ARM parked and loading up kids. The bus was parked pointed eastbound, ready to make the right turn up Shorewood Drive. I was headed westbound on North Mercer Way.

I'm a guy who stops for stop signs. I sure would have stopped for this one if I'd seen it but I didn't see it because I was totally zoned out.

I was so zoned out I not only didn't see the bus and the stop arm, I hadn't been checking my rear view mirror either. So I didn't see the police car that was right behind me either.

I don't think the bus driver could quite believe how zoned out I was, but he hit his horn as he saw that I wasn't slowing down. That snapped me out of my stupor just in time for me to be aware that I blew past the stop sign.

And of course the police officer hit his lights and pulled me over.

The bus driver and the police officer were totally right. I was totally wrong.

The officer was very professional and nice about things. I deservedly felt like an idiot. The officer was a bit surprised when I explained that I don't have a driver's license but he was perfectly happy to run my passport through the system. He also explained my options with the ticket. I can either pay the fine, schedule a mitigation hearing or contest the ticket. I'd only contest the ticket if I felt the officer was wrong for issuing me the ticket. He wasn't wrong, I was.

The fine is a hefty one, designed to impress on one the importance of driving safely around school children. It's a $394 ticket.

I'm going for a mitigation hearing. The hearing will at least give me more than fifteen days to come up with 394 dollars. And both the police officer and my lawyer friends tell me the judge may reduce the fine if I'm truly sorry and keep a clean record going forward.

I really do try to be here now but sometimes I forget. I feel I got off easy. If I was zoned out enough to space out on both a school bus and a police car, I could just as easily have been in an accident that would keep me from learning this or any other lessons.

With luck we get to live and learn.

I'm still learning.

Be careful out there.



N said...

Gah. Sorry about the ticket, but glad that your zoned-ness only had a financial cost.

Everybody's the space monkey sometimes. All we can do is go forth and try to monkey less.

Anonymous said...

wow, what a story. I must admit that I don't always stop for School Buss'. I slow down to a snail's pace and proceed carefully. Your story has inspired me to come to complete stop like any other road user. As a matter of fact, I'll endevor to follow all road rules from now on.

Thank you for setting an example to all commuters.

Maybe we can all respect the rules of the road.

derek said...

Bummer about the ticket. I guess Jesus had something going when he said "ye who are without sin cast the first stone" :)

It's so easy to be quick to judge without knowing a persons situation. I had a lady step right out in front of me on a bike path. I turned around to give her a piece of my mind to find that she was crying so hard it wasn't any wonder she couldn't see. If she hadn't been crying I probably would have given her the riot act and not found out that her brother had just died(found out on her cell phone just then) I like blogs with less complaining about others and more like this and the cleaning up post :)

Joe said...

Hi Kent, Thanks for sharing the story, and I'm glad you're OK in all the important senses. You know, there's probably no better way you could have improved bike safety for $394 and a blog post. Take care, and we'll try to do the same.

-joe broach

Anonymous said...

Yep, it happens to all of us. Can be very scary, too. This is one of many reasons I'd rather be on a bike than in a car - the consequences tend to be less severe. Also, it is usually less likely to happen. Way to be a stand up guy, too Kent; all the haters on blogs commenting about bikers never accepting the consequences of the traffic laws should see this and realize that while you are being exemplary in this instance, you are not unique. Many of us would realize that we were at fault and deal with things responsibly. Stay safe. Val

John Childs said...

I can teach you to unicycle. It's difficult to zone out while unicycling cause if you zone out too much you fall off (hopefully not into traffic). Or you can get a twitchy fixie based on track style geometry. Call the twitchy handling a safety awareness feature.

Kent always inspires me. And tonight I feel inspired to buy something from Amazon.

Dingbat said...

It happens to the best of us. This is proof!

Part of why I bike is that I know that brain-farts like this are a hell of a lot less likely to kill other people than if I were piloting a car.

Jim G said...

Kent, bummer about the ticket. How ironic -- hope they don't make too much fun of you at work! Do you have a "ticket-abatement" Paypal tip jar anywhere? I'd be happy to contribute...

Anonymous said...

Make sure you take a copy of your blog post to the hearing. Sharing your story with others certainly encourages safety and shows your genuine concern for your own actions (or lack there of). It also sends a message of just how serious the results can be to the wallet. I'd have never guessed the police would give a cyclist a $394 ticket for such an incident. Wow.

Michael R said...

Oh My Gawd. Is it something in the spring air? I made two brain dead errors last week. Fortunately neither involved transportation. Sorry to hear about your mishap.

My experience with going to court for traffic tickets, even if to only plead guilty, is a hefty reduction in the fine.

Great title on the post.

Great thing to read in the morning right before leaving to commute.

Nelson Ralls said...

Wow mindfulness is such a hard state to maintain. I find myself zoning out all the time on my commute since I'm so famliar with it. Its amazing that there aren't even more accidents out there with the number of people who add to the fuzz with iPods, Cell Phones, etc. Take Care my friend.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, Kent, I'm laughing with you....:~)


C said...

I would hope you could get the ticket reduced. It's a bit absurd that your ticket is $394 while a motorist who previously hit a cyclist and had several previous infractions paid only $500 for hitting and killing a pedestrian!

I'd try to get the judge to realize that:
1) Your on a bike so even if you did hit someone it's extremely unlikely they would have been killed (unlike a car)
2) You don't drive so there's no chance that you would exhibit similar behavior behind the wheel (unlike most cyclists who ride and drive)
3) Your full-time job is to promote safe cycling. Yeah, you made a mistake but I've lost track of how many times I've seen cops make bonehead mistakes while driving! It happens to the best of us.
4) You fully acknowledged - publicly in your blog - that you made a mistake.

I would hope the judge would have enough good sense to knock the fine down.

chatty cathy said...

wow. amazing. someone admitting to being wrong. so rare nowadays. thanks kent.

Anonymous said...

Daylight Savings Time is to blame. I read that accidents go up quite a bit for the two days after the start of DST. I know I felt pretty zoned out bicycling to work Monday morning.

A deserved ticket, yes, but I do find it absurd that the amount of the fine for a bicyclist is the same as for a motorist. I just don't feel a bicycle is anywhere near the danger to the school children as an automobile.

brad said...

It can be hard to pay attention all the time.

This moment. Right here.

Anonymous said...

Tell the judge you've already spread the word about stopping for yellow buses to the 1,000+ readers you have!!

Tom said...

Bummer. FYI -- Mitigate the citation. All it is is an agreement for you not to get another citation in 12 months and you can get the fine drastically reduced, as long as your driving record is in pretty good shape. It's not a legal right vs wrong thing, as much as a "I'm a decent law abiding dude and pledge to try harder from now on not to zone out" pledge. Although there might be exceptions, such as passing a stopped school bus with a big red stop sign displayed. You'll have to check it out -- good luck.

Hank said...

You carry your passport everywhere? Interesting.

Good luck with your mitigation. Mention you don't own or drive a car. Wear "thrift store" clothing. Maybe walk with a cane but remember to limp on the same leg the entire time. Look at the bailiff when you speak to the judge and act surprised when the judge says, "I'm over here." :-)

nollij said...

Speaking of "accidents go up after daylight savings change"... there was a fatal accident involving a sheriff's deputy and 3 cyclists several days ago here in the Bay Area. The cop dozed off, went across the double yellow, plowed through and killed 2 of the cyclists (1 on the spot, the other in the hospital later) and the third cyclist was "only" seriously injured. It was a total freak accident. 2 cyclists (1 an olympic hopeful)lost their lives, a rookie cop lost his career and will live with the knowledge of the pain he caused and 1 cyclist was seriously injured. The cause? The cop was sleep deprived, likely due to poor judgement in scheduling. Some blame is being placed on the time change. The worst part was that the SF Chronicle turned it into a bicycle fear mongering fest. It's still the safest way to travel, more so than on foot.

Kent, I concur that the fine is way too steep. Do the things the others have said, and the fine will likely be reduced. Be careful out there folks...

nocrec said...

glad you're alive.

B safe out there.


"What's your conscious choice?"

Ainsley Wiles said...

One thing that bothers me is people posting about the fine should be lower because you were on a bike. A bike is a vehicle just like a car and don't we want everyone to see that? That being said, I do hope the fine is reduced for you.

MikeOnBike said...

Some places (such as Palo Alto, California) have lower fines for bike infractions compared to the same car infraction. Two reasons for doing this:

1. Bicycles have far less potential to cause harm to others than cars do, because they're lighter and slower. It's the same reason operating a powerful motor vehicle requires a license while operating a bike does not. So the fines are scaled down to better match the severity of the offense.

2. Police are sometimes reluctant to enforce cycling infractions because the fines are out of scale to the offense/harm.

One suggestion I've seen is that fines be scaled by weight. So a 6000 pound vehicle running a stop signs pays more than a 3000 pound vehicle. Which in turn pays more than a 200 pound cyclist+bike.

Art said...

On one hand, OUCH. On the other, it's good to see police enforcing traffic laws uniformly. Around here it's unheard of for a cyclist to get pulled over for anything. The result is such an acceptance of reckless riding that it's no wonder the drivers hate all of us. But look on the bright side. When most people zone out on the bike they end up breaking something that costs a lot more than $400.

Anonymous said...

Ah, what a bummer. But as many other comments noted, that sort of story is read with a cringe of recognition; we've all been there before. Don't be too hard on yourself.

Kent Peterson said...

Here's the final update on this. When I got the notice of the mitigation hearing, it turned out that I could submit a statement in writing to the judge. So I wrote a cover note and sent this blog post along with all the comments. The final result was that I don't have to pay $394. The fee wound up being $150 and I have to 60 days to pay up. And I have to keep a clean traffic record for the next year.

BiketoWork Barb said...

Thanks for sharing the link to this! I added it to my posts about mindful driving/biking. We've all gone to La La Land at one point or another even if we have right intentions about our attention. :D


BiketoWork Barb said...

Thought I'd come back and share the link to the post you inspired on my blog--figured if you confessed I should too :D.


PS: I'm enjoying the fact that the word verification on this comment is "densive" (maybe a combo of dense and defensive to remind me NOT to be dense and to practice defensive biking?).