In Auckland, many motorists are going from A to B at any time. Many drivers are conscientious and drive with care and consideration for other road users; however, some do not. First, I will describe a situation I found myself in today with my guide dog Sienna and then reiterate the message I would like to give those who do not have situational awareness while driving.
After leaving work early with the intention to work from home after my monitor shorted and would no longer work with IT, removing it for repair, I began my walk home. Sienna, my guide dog and I were on our second walk without the guide dog instructor present. Earlier that morning, we had a fantastic walk to work with no mishaps along the way.
One of the things I have noticed about Sienna is that she is a very social dog. For example, last week, she dragged the small table she was tethered to towards the door of my office so that she could interact with the passers-by while I was teaching or in online meetings; I noticed pretty late in her escapade after people had stopped to talk with her. Similarly, when she knows we are heading home, she tends to go slower as if to say, “do we have to go home” and wants to interact with people on the way home. I want to let it be known that she gets plenty of time to play and socialise with others and I am told that this is quite common for new guide dogs to want to be out.
As soon as we crossed a road near work, Sienna figured out we were going home and decided to go very slowly. She did everything right; it was just at about 1/4 of her usual speed when working. To give you context, I can walk home in about 25 – 30 minutes and it took me about 90 minutes today; I tried all of the usual tricks to get her to speed up and ended up stopping along the way to get a drink for me and give her some time out. This worked perfectly and she walked along at average speed and happily until we got to the next set of traffic lights.
One of Sienna’s favourite things is targeting or finding the correct traffic light signal to cross the road. We did this perfectly and waited for the signal indicating it was safe to cross. I was still giving her a treat for finding the correct traffic light pole when the signal beeped and vibrated, so we were a few seconds late taking off to cross. However, the signal was still beeping, and cars stopped, meaning it was still safe to cross.
The road we were crossing had two lanes going in each direction and a middle lane for traffic turning right, so we crossed five lanes of traffic. When the way was clear and the signal was beeping, we started to cross. After crossing one and a half lanes, a car ran the red light opposite us, going around 50km per hour in the lane we were crossing. The intersection was on my right and noisy, so I could not see it or fully hear approaching the traffic over idling cars and the beeping traffic signals, so I didn’t notice the car coming.
Sienna stopped when she heard the car (as she is trained to do), I asked her to go forward to try and get out of the lane, and she hesitated and the car swerved and went behind us, driving away at speed.
Sienna and I continued to cross the road reaching the other side safely but a little shaken. The lights then changed and other cars stopped at the lights pulled away. We sat for a while on the other side of the road and then continued on our way home.
Only having 10 degrees of vision left, I could see that the car pulling that ran the red light was a white station wagon and was probably in an early 1990s shape, but I couldn’t pick up any more detail. I will not make any assumptions about the driver or reason for running a red light. Still, all drivers need to maintain situational awareness to be safe in charge of a vehicle. With this in mind, I have no way of ever finding this driver. Still, the message I would like to give them is to be aware of the situation (including red traffic lights and pedestrians) and consider other road users’ safety.
Sienna and I continued our walk home and she was going slowly, with none of her usual tail wags and being extremely cautious when guiding me. We continued at her pace to find the footpath entirely blocked by a construction gate and pallets and no people to be seen anywhere. I asked Sienna to find a way around, but the only options were stepping out into the road (there was room) or going back to the traffic lights to cross where the car ran the red light. Sienna was unwilling to step onto the road and not keen to go back to the previous intersection.
The only way I could then get past this obstruction was to move a road cone that was in burried knee high grass to get her through. After this, she stopped every 20 meters or so, and would move along when encouraged but it was tough going. Eventually, I stopped, took off her harness and let her sniff around for a while. I attempted to walk home with her on the lead with my white cane but she was into everyones garden, grass and sniffing so I only walked about 10 meters off harness and just with her lead.
Luckily this did the trick and I was able to get her harness back on and she walked home slowely in harness. She was cautious but by the time we got in the front door there were some tail wags. After some play, food and a peanut butter kong Sienna is now asleep and I hope that she is happy enough to guide me tomorrow after what happened today.
I am hoping that this story is informative to others and if by any mircale that it reaches the particular driver of the white station wagon or others that loose their situational awareness while driving that it shows the impact that their actions can have on other road users giving them insight to change their habbits before more serious harm than a somewhat traumatised guide dog and handler on their first solo walk home is caused.