Gentlemen, Stop Your Engines!

It’s a tossup which event occurs more often in Westport: beautiful historic homes being torn down, or perfectly good cars being driven through strip mall storefronts.

It happened again Thursday. An SUV lurched into the front of the (fortunately vacant) former New York Sports Club.


Compo Shopping Center — where this went down — is a frequent target for this sort of poor parking. Gold’s and other nearby tenants have also been hit.

But it’s not confined to there. Up and down the Post Road, drivers plow through doors and plate glass windows with stunning regularity. On Riverside Avenue, Tutti’s was a victim earlier this year.

I’m pretty sure I know the reason for another type of accident: crashes at midday, on perfectly clear roads in beautiful weather. It’s drivers who text or otherwise use cell phones.

This epidemic is more puzzling. No matter how much we love our phones, we don’t use them while parking.

If you’ve got ideas — on the cause or the cure — click “Comments” below.

Meanwhile, here’s my advice: Stick to Main Street. No one in Westport can parallel park. So everyone is very, very careful.

The aftermath of the Tutti's crash.

The aftermath of the Tutti’s crash.

19 responses to “Gentlemen, Stop Your Engines!

  1. Not to be contrary but I think most people do text or otherwise use their phones MORE while parking or pulling out of parking spots. Finishing just one more text, making one last call, putting in/taking out an earpiece. All of these things happen at the beginning or end of a trip. They all contribute to distractions or getting physically tangled in a wire (reverse v. drive; accelerator v. brake).

  2. Tom Siebrasse

    Could it be the large influx of people from NYC that have literally never driven before they show up on Westport roads with the latest 5000 tank from MB or Cadillac?

    Yes, of course texting or talking while driving can make any size car a middle. Was seriously rear ended at 55 MPH by a kid in a pick up with a cell phone…

  3. It’s called pedal confusion, also (somewhat incorrectly) known as unintended acceleration. Pressing on mr. gas pedal when thinking you are pressing on mr. brake pedal.

  4. Beside the distractions due to cellphone use and texting, we can’t lose sight of another major problem in Westport: the design of parking lots is thoughtless and dangerous—parking spaces are perpendicular to walls and not at an angle. For example, let’s look at one of the worst parking lots in Westport: Trader Joes.

    I have been in touch with the property manager of Trader Joes and they were concerned, but have no authority to change the parking lot, so I reached out to Equity One, the landlord, and Joe Scala, property manager, in particular.

    What is clear to anyone who shops there is the 4-way traffic going in and out while mothers with a child in each hand and both arms filled with shopping bags must navigate this poorly thought out and dangerous parking lot.

    I have exchanged email with Mr. Scala and said that there should be angular parking so drivers can see what is approaching them from behind and on the sides. I suggested making the entrance one-way in and one-way out, as the traffic light can be adjusted accordingly. I even supplied photos of the self-entitled parking and driving (don’t even ask). Mr. Scala stopped responding to my emails because Equity One does not care if there is a major tragedy and someone gets hurt or killed.Write to Joe Scala at:

  5. Dorothy Abrams

    Tom, it is so nice to know that it is only New Yorkers who don’t know how to drive. And that they are an “influx”. Should we build a wall?

  6. While I haven’t been to Westport for some time (except for 06880), I find myself oddly agreeing with the conclusions of most of your commenters above. Texting, cell phone use, the width and design of street traffic, adjusting car controls and parking surely contribute to this problem. I also have found myself using the two foot discipline which is not the safest thing to do. Sadly, the connectivity devices which we seem to need today does not bode well for our collective safety.

  7. Rachel Halperin

    I watched the car smash into the wall of Painters Supply of Westport shop in the CVS PLAZA less than a month ago. That one wasn’t wasn’t texting. I’m assuming it was pedal confusion. The spots are narrow and there’s no real cut off or barrier btw the shops and the spaces. its amazing to me that the amount of times cars have gone through Golds Deli, the paint/interior shop and now the empty NYSC, that nobody has been really hurt!

    And by the way, FFC people are just as crappy drivers as any others. I’ve been almost hit countless times by SUV drivers who are paying more attention to their phones than the road. And guess what? Plenty of them grew up here, not NY! It’s the spoiled/stupid mentality that, “it won’t happen to me” and that’s everywhere.
    Former NYer

  8. I’ll borrow Elizabeth Thibault’s suggestion of the principle of Occam’s razor here.

  9. Crash proof barriers (posts) were put up in front of the Black Rock Turnpike CVS in Fairfield after the window (& wall) were crashed through w/ regularity. (I lost count). The drivers were all very elderly people.

    A solution might be periodic retesting for drivers (both motor vehicle & eye tests) over a certain age. There is a sidewalk in front of the shop which people use to get to other shops & thankfully no one was hit (in any of the CVS crashes).

    Only weeks ago a younger (50s) driver from Westport just hit & killed my 91 year old neighbour who was crossing BRT one block away on the same stretch of road. The traffic lights were set on blinking when she crossed coming back from a supermarket. People rarely seem to slow down or stop for blinking lights now here (as if they no longer know what they mean or don’t care… another reason to retest). I have been writing emails to various authorities regarding the lights also. (There is another completely broken *walk* crossing light near where she was killed & in front of CVS).

    People want to keep driving as they age because they are obviously safer IN their cars than crossing the streets because they are forced to walk (& because the elderly/disability & low income 8-30g housing is only placed on or near what are basically dangerous highways such as Black Rock Turnpike & The Post Road — due to NIMBY).

    We live in a car culture now and I think that is the issue w/ parking spaces in FRONT of shops w/ plate glass windows and MV retesting thought of as only an expense & inconvenience & intrusion and city planners & architects not yet taking an interest in New Urban Planning models which favour pedestrians (such as contemporary pedestrian friendly urban planning done in Europe which mimics older traditional town/city planning).

  10. & *applause* for yet another of Dan’s very clever & funny titles…

  11. Simple. Car is running. When it is put into gear [D or R or 1st]], phone becomes incapacitated, until it is in P or off.

  12. Audi 5000 syndrome… Seriously though, it’s not just people on their phones. I think especially today, people are very busy and have a lot on their minds. Blame technology or not, but there’s always that time where your kid is sick, your aunt is in the hospital, your wife/husband can’t make it to a family event and you just found out you’re running late to an appointment…. And putting the car into park is that ‘one more thing’ that slips your mind.

    This just happened at the former Connelly’s restaurant (now a Mexican place), and as others have mentioned, in other places as well. Not just in Westport.

    • @ Adam Guha

      People had the same issues earlier (being busy & having things on their mind) yet these kind of accidents did not occur w/ such alarming regularity & were not followed by such extreme apathy (in the case of tragic deaths).

      Narcissism has been increasing in this society. The repeated accidents I described above at the BRT Fairfield CVS necessitating MASSIVE posts put in place were not caused by people in SUVs either. The shops along this stretch of road have been here since at least the 50s w/ not one of them requiring this barricade until the 2010s.

      The same is true of people driving & even speeding through yellow & red blinking lights (also described above). It has to do w/ an increasing sense of entitlement & lack of sense of community including having no empathy for pedestrians — especially the elderly. In the 60s & 70s in Westport if a driver even saw me nearing a crosswalk either walking or on my bicycle as a child — they stopped for me to cross (& this was when there were still only traffic lights in the very center of town & not on every block and when intersections elsewhere in town didn’t all have stop signs). Yet during the summer when we still had New Yorker summer people here — they never stopped for us. Now nobody stops only because they see a child nearing the corner: they rather make the child wait.

      Two of my elderly neighbours have been killed this way already — one only weeks ago (please see above). Three young people have been hit here on this stretch of road in the last few years — w/ car after car after car driving past the last girl hit (a young waitress) as she lay in a snowbank by the side of the road w/ not one person coming to her aid. Another girl that was hit here & was hospitalised told me the driver was telling the police — WHILST she lay in the road w/ multiple broken bones — it was her fault because she threw herself in front of his car. She was actually just crossing the road (Black Rock Turnpike) w/ the light.

      TWO mothers in TWO separate instances were killed crossing the street w/ strollers in the SAME week this month nearby in CT. (There may have been more but I fell behind reading the CT news in the last few weeks after my neighbour was hit & killed).

      I don’t want to sound needlessly contrary but this is a very serious & deadly social issue that has far more behind it than people simply being busy & having other matters in their lives. People ran over people w/ horses & carriages but the callousness is something new. Someone actually taped a tag sale poster over the memorial card AND bouquet of flowers I placed in a ribbon tied round a telephone pole for my 91 year old elderly neighbour.

      • *’Two mothers in two separate instances were killed crossing the street w/ CHILDREN in strollers…’ I meant to say…

  13. Similar to the waze traffic app, cell phone providers should disable the ability to use text when the car is moving or when there is only one finger typing (due to the other hand hopefully on the wheel). It is a real epidemic and the cell phone providers and manufacturers have the responsibility for the safety of their customers.

    • How do you handle a situation where you want your passenger to send a text for you on your phone, but they can’t, because your phone has been disabled? There would need to be some way of overriding.

      How would this be implemented anyway? I suppose the cell network could disable a phone that they detect going over a certain speed, but then that would also disable all passenger’s phones too, not to mention the phones of everyone on a train, even though they aren’t driving.

      BTW, I agree that it’s a problem, and that something should be done, I just don’t see a practical solution.

      • What about thumb only typing? If you are driving and holding the phone in the other hand, you can only type with your thumb (unless you take both hands off the wheel). Maybe there is some way to note this type of typing and then disable the texting? Just a thought.