Intersections: Bad driving signals a need for reflection

I almost got into a car accident this weekend. It was one of those moments where the world moved forward in slow motion and the time between my realization of what was happening and it actually happening was so minuscule, that reacting didn't seem like it would pay off.

But it did. I ended up honking with such force that I was sure I had awakened the neighbors from their Sunday slumber on the quiet residential street I hoped would not become the scene of something more shocking than interrupted sleep. It felt like my horn had been screaming out for minutes when the driver in the other car finally looked up and stopped her car, just an inch before mine.

She was shocked. So was I. She waved sorry, and I straightened my car out and drove off, still confused at what had just happened, about how close I had come to having my car obliterated.

This momentary brush was made all the more significant on the heels of the awful Valley Village accident caused by a Glendale resident that left two Good Samaritans dead. On top of that, Allstate Insurance's 2012 Best Drivers Report featured Glendale in the number five spot in the 10 worst in between Hialeah, Fla., and Philadelphia, Pa.

Some might consider that an improvement, since the Jewel City ranked as the third worst last year, but is it really?

Yes, Glendale has a driving problem. If it's not ranking terribly on worst driver lists, it gets horrendous marks for pedestrian safety. And while efforts have been made, like the Safe and Healthy Streets Plan, which saw the addition of trilingual street signs in English, Armenian and Spanish at intersections, there are still issues that linger, issues that need to be openly discussed.

Some have wondered why this problem exists. Urban Toot, a short-lived blog on Glendale, asked, “Why are we such bad drivers? Aren't Glendale and Burbank so similar in so many ways? Don't we share a helicopter with Pasadena and Burbank? Don't we share an airport? I'm sure that we share a bunch of other things but we don't seem to share our bad driving habits with them?”

Some diagnose the problem via comments on news sites. Are there too many speed traps in Glendale? Speedtrap.org, a site that tracks them, has seven pages of speed traps for the city, going all the way back to 2001. Many are complaints about law enforcement who “hide” out somewhere and check your speed via radar when you least expect it. Others, like reviewers for the Glendale Police Department Yelp page (I was surprised it had one, too) say our police force is just overly aggressive and ticket happy.

But then there's another issue, brought up over and over again, a cultural problem, within the Armenian community of young men who love their luxury cars and who love to drive their luxury cars, with a penchant for fast speeds against each other or alone. Their careless maneuvers and defensive driving put others at risk, commentators say, adding that they fear speaking up because they're afraid their concern, concentrated on one ethnic group, will lead to cries of prejudice. Are these quantifiable claims? No. They are based on anecdotes and experiences, which although can't be charted, shouldn't be completely discounted either.

Stereotyping never does anyone any good and neither does sweeping issues under the rug that need to be addressed. So, if there are problems, we should own up to them, and discuss them, because whether it's about law enforcement or particular issues within one segment of our community, discussion to debunk or solve them can only take us forward and make Glendale a safer place to live.

LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at liana.agh@gmail.com.

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