Podcast 018: Think Harder

In This Episode: Kit thinks we should go deeper into the featured story to really understand the “thinking” implications: it’s not all about laughing at a funny tagline. Plus, I explore Kit’s approach to coaching a bit more, since I had some questions after hearing her on a couple of other podcasts! And: another segment in No Longer Weird.

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Show Notes

  • No Longer Weird: people who had their illegal drugs stolen, so they call the police to report the theft. (Suggested by a rejected story from WXIX Indianapolis, Teen Calls Greenwood Police to Report Her Drugs Were Stolen).
  • Regarding the legality of marijuana in Indiana, the Indianapolis Star ran an interesting article recently: Did Indiana legalize cannabis? Yes. Kind of. Maybe. In any case, I’m not aware of any state making recreational marijuana legal for juveniles.
  • Kit is a high-performance coach specializing in entrepreneurs with ADD; her site is here. I asked her more about her work in relation to two podcasts she appeared on recently: Doing the Work with Jay & Becca and the video podcast, The Resilience Element.
  • The download link for True’s 12 Weirdest Stories of 2016 will be repeated in next week’s newsletter. Or, of course, you can subscribe to the newsletter using the form on this page to download it as soon as you confirm your subscription request.

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Randy: Welcome to Uncommon Sense, the Podcast companion to the ThisIsTrue.com newsletter with the mission to promote more thinking in the world. I’m Randy Cassingham,

Kit: And I’m Kit Cassingham.

Randy: Now that Kit has taken over as co-host, she had a suggestion to focus it a little more. I say up front that the This is True newsletter — and by extension this podcast — has a mission to promote more thinking in the world. And I guess, Kit, you’re thinking that’s not clear enough in previous episodes?

Kit: It’s not so much that it’s not clear, it’s just not obvious enough. We can go deeper than we have been.

Randy: Discuss them more.

Kit: Yeah. Because there’s a lot of meat in these stories, and we don’t want to gloss over that thinking opportunity.

Randy: Right. So I, or we, should be more explicit in calling out why I think the stories we talk about in the podcast illustrate the importance of thinking.

Kit: Yes, exactly.

Randy: OK, so let’s get into this week’s featured story, from the latest newsletter — that would be issue #1222. The full story will included on the Show Page at this is thisistrue.com/podcast18, but here’s the gist of it: it’s titled “Important Call”:

It starts with a quote: “The [railroad gates] were down, and I thought he was going to stop,” said a witness watching a bicyclist in Santa Rosa, Calif., as she was stopped at a railroad crossing. And I absolutely love the woman’s next quote! She says, “Ding, ding, ding, and I hear the train. And the next thing I see is him rolling under the train, and his bicycle is under the front of the train.” And how is it that the unnamed 19-year-old bicyclist didn’t see the crossing arms were down, the red lights were flashing, the alarm was sounding, and a multi-car train was bearing down on the same spot he was aiming for during the afternoon commute? The bicyclist, the witness says, was chatting on his cell phone as he rode. And he peddled onto the tracks right in front of the so-called “SMART” train — which is what the commuter trains run by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit are called. The impact threw him 20-30 feet, but amazingly he was not killed. SMART spokeswoman Jeanne Mariani-Belding told the media, “Safety really is our top priority. We really are asking people to please be alert and aware near all tracks and trains, and avoid distractions.” And my tagline for the story is, “You need more than a SMART train when dealing with DUMB cyclists.”

Kit: Every time I read that story I’m dumbfounded. I know that when we’re on the phone, our brain goes to where the conversation’s happening, which is on the other end of the phone—

Randy: Right: not where they are!

Kit: Not where we are. I’ve ridden my bicycle — I commuted [on one] until I was 24. I can’t imagine being so engrossed in something that I miss all the visual and audio cues.

Randy: Like this guy did.

Kit: Like this guy did.

Randy: I got two interesting very letters on this story, which Kit hasn’t heard yet. The first one is from Gerry in British Columbia, Canada, and he says, “I have always enjoyed reading your stories and I will continue to do so hopefully for many more years to come. I do take some exception to one of your taglines though. I am a cyclist and I have to deal with blowback from other users of the road all the time. It seems to me the crux of the story is about distracted driving, and not cycling, and the tagline cause the focus to be on the cyclist and not the distracted driving. There are too many haters of the cycling community and we don’t need to encourage more of them.”

Now I totally agree that the main problem on the road these days is distracted drivers, and most of them are driving motor vehicles: cyclists are usually much more aware of their surroundings, because they’re not surrounded by a literal ton of steel and various protective devices; their safety really does depend on their awareness. And indeed, I’ve pounded on distracted drivers many, many times in TRUE’s stories.

But because cyclists are more often the victim of bad vehicle drivers rather than the culprits most of the time, I should give them a pass when they do something absolutely stupid and not only ruin — or often end — their own lives, but mess up the day for a lot of other folks, most notably the train engineer or driver they essentially force to injure or kill them? No! I shine the spotlight on the — as I put it in this story — “dumb” actor, and in this story, that’s the bicyclist. I assume Gerry also drives a car sometimes, and I don’t recall him writing to complain about previous dumb driver stories just because he’s a careful driver.

Kit: Well, I would think he’d appreciate you highlighting the careless, thoughtless…

Randy: The importance of paying attention!

Kit: Well, the bicyclist. To say, there’s an example that ruins it for all of us.

Randy: Exactly.

Kit: That’s where I thought he was going to go with this.

Randy: Well, and I think if we shy away from pointing out great examples of what happens when you don’t think about what you’re doing, then what’s the publication about? I’m not just going for a laugh here: I’m seriously trying to get people to understand what happens when they don’t take responsibility for their own safety. Seriously: this guy rode his bicycle right in front of a moving train and got whacked because he was talking on the phone! And because witnesses could see he was talking on the phone, I have to assume that means he was holding it up to his ear, which indicates to me he wasn’t wearing a helmet, and certainly didn’t have both hands on his handlebars, let alone have his eyes open to the very real dangers that were all around him.

Kit: Good points. I also want to point out that your stories are not just to make people laugh. You also aspire to make people think. Either through laughter, or anger, or …there was a third thing you’ve always talked about….

Randy: The third thing is irony, and how crazy it can be.

Kit: Or the twist, the ironic twist of the situation.

Randy: Right. Exactly. And this guy didn’t even have to die to set his example: he gets a second chance. I seriously don’t see anything at all to change in this story: I think it’s a great example of the real-world perils of not thinking about what you’re doing. And if it causes the not-stupid bicyclists to be even more careful out there? Great! But I really don’t see any reason to get upset at pointing out the stupidity of a cyclist that really was stupid.

Kit: Maybe the author of the letter will explain himself more, or maybe if he listens to this, he’ll understand more of what your intention was, and come to your side of thinking about it. Oh, there’s that word! THINKING about it!

Randy: Oh! How about that! I’ll certainly let him know that I’m talking about it in the podcast, and invite him to comment on the page.

The other letter on this story was from Bill in South Carolina. It’s pretty short and to the point. He says, “I moved from California four years ago. When I left, California had 65 deaths annually from obliviots killed by trains. That’s more than one every week.”

Kit: 65?!

Randy: Yeah: that’s like one every five or six days.

Kit: Ooohhh!

Randy: So it’s not that this story is a bizarre aberration: while it is a possibility, few of these accidents involve trains jumping off their tracks so they could chase someone down! Nearly every time, the train’s path is pretty darned predictable. They make a lot of noise, and there are noisy, flashy, in-your-face warnings that a train is coming when they’re a little ways away. And yet more than once a week, in one state alone, someone is hit and killed by a train, plus how many more injured?

Kit: Well, that’s a whole ’nother topic, isn’t it?

Randy: Yeah: so this guy isn’t even part of those statistics! He’s not one of the 65! So this isn’t an indication that trains are dangerous. This is an indication that people are oblivious. They’re not watching where they’re going, they’re not keeping alert to danger, and they’re letting themselves be distracted by phones, texts, games, music injected directly into their ears, and, I’m sad to say, children in the back seat — and that’s part of the deaths too. So we really do need to think about this stuff. These people often are killing themselves, and ruining lives. And in the vast majority of cases, all they have to do to stop it is engage their brains.

Kit: Good point. Well, from where I come from, it’s “be present.” Which is another way of saying “engage the brain.” And I will say, some of the accidents are where trains hit vehicles or people, the cars stall out or break down on the track.

Randy: Right. Not all of them are people being stupid, absolutely.

Kit: Often in those cases, many of the passengers are able to get out of the car, so only the car is hurt.

Randy: Yeah: usually they don’t derail, but they sure wreck the cars. And of course another thing he could have done was use a bluetooth headset, which you probably can get some that go under a helmet, so he could have more safety with not only not holding the phone up, and having both hands on the handlebars, but also wear a helmet if he does fall down. Because you know, I used to ride a motorcycle. I occasionally would fall down. And one time I hit my head pretty hard, and if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, I would either be dead or a vegetable right now.

Kit: And we wouldn’t be on this podcast, that’s for sure.

Randy: That’s true.

Kit: And I do know motorcyclists who do have earpiece mic sets for their helmets. A good thing to do for any kind of two-wheel vehicle.

Randy: So really the point of this story is yeah, you might get a laugh out of it…

Kit: You might get mad!

Randy: You might get mad because you realize what that guy did to the train engineer! That poor man or woman that was driving that train…

Kit: Can you imagine the horror of seeing what you’re about to do?

Randy: They’re coming up on this intersection, watching this guy, she or he is hitting the brakes because “Hey! This guy is not stopping!” And then watching as they run over the guy. That just has to be a really horrible feeling.

Kit: Yeah.

Randy: And maybe that’s how people get PTSD and suffer, sometimes for life.

Kit: Yeah. Good point.

Randy: And they did nothing wrong. This idiot just got in their way, crossing arms were down — everything worked! Except that one guy’s brain.

So while I agree with Kit that the Uncommon Sense podcast is an opportunity to take more time to explore why the stories we talk about really reflect the mission to encourage more thinking, I’ll still continue to have a little fun each week and continue the brief segments of…. No Longer Weird!

This week: people who had their illegal drugs stolen, so they call the police to report the theft.

Kit: No!

Randy: Yeah! All the time. Or, they bought what they thought was fill in the blank — marijuana, heroin, cocaine, meth, or what have you — and they didn’t get what they thought they were buying, and called the police. The funny aside with the latter: often the police check the supposedly fake substance, find out it really is real, and arrest the person for …yes… possession of the drug they thought was fake.

Kit: The police are there to protect you, but I don’t know that’s a protection that the cops signed up for….

Randy: Well, they’re there to protect society, and being an obliviot isn’t illegal really — yet….

Kit: Yeah, you can’t really legislate that kind of stuff.

Randy: The key there really is the word “often”! This happens way too often to be considered weird. The story that I saw, but passed on for This is True was from Indiana, and what made it an almost story to use was, the person reporting their drugs were stolen was a juvenile, and a girl at that. Yeah, I know, girls abuse drugs too, but the stereotype is, they’re male, and it just ain’t so.

In this case, the girl called police in Greenwood, Indiana, because she had tried to sell marijuana to two teen boys, and they took the drugs from her at gunpoint. The nerve! You know?

Kit: That’s rude.

Randy: Officers who responded to the girl’s call said they found drug paraphernalia “all over the house.” The girl who called the police was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, and of course the boys who stole the drugs were easily caught also, and charged with armed robbery and, because investigators found they indeed had the stolen drugs, drug possession.

Kit: It just doesn’t pay. How old were these kids?

Randy: It didn’t actually say, but they were apparently in the 14-16 range — they weren’t adults, they’re being charged as juveniles, so they were definitely not 18.

Kit: Wow. I don’t know why they needed guns to steal. I don’t know why they needed to steal. Or why they needed the drugs, either! I’m naive there.

Randy: Well, whatever, but you know, they thought they could get away with it, and maybe they figured the girl wouldn’t call the police, but guess what? They were wrong.

Kit: I wonder if she would have called them if they hadn’t used a gun? I wonder if that pushed it over the top for her?

Randy: I’m sure she was indignant…

Kit: Scared!

Randy: Scared and indignant, and she’s the victim of an actual crime…

Kit: And she’s just trying to make a dishonest buck! Actually an honest buck…

Randy: Well, a dishonest buck: I don’t think pot’s legal there, certainly not for teenagers! Certainly it’s not a big capital offense, but sticking a gun in someone’s face is.

Randy: In other news, Kit, I’m going to reveal a shocking fact to listeners.

Kit: Uh oh!

Randy: This isn’t the only podcast you’ve been on lately.

Kit: This is True. I…

Randy: That’s a trademark!

Kit: I know: I owe you a quarter.

Randy: You have been on a couple of shows. This week, it was Doing the Work with Jay & Becca. I just listened to it today, so give us a little bit on what that was about?

Kit: It was well, surprise! It was about ADD, and how entrepreneurs can manage their ADD by embracing it.

Randy: So you were on in your role as a coach for people — entrepreneurs — with ADD.

Kit: Entrepreneurs, specifically with ADD. But Jay’s child has ADD, and Becca’s partner and maybe child have ADD, so there was a lot of ADD in the conversation.

Randy: Right. So what’s Doing the Work about?

Kit: Jay is a coach, he coaches people on how to work on themselves, and improve themselves, and his guests align with that. He’s had a wonderful array of guests.

Randy: So he’s clearly not intimidated that you’re a coach, and you’re going to “steal” his perhaps coaching clients.

Kit: Jay is not intimidated at all.

Randy: I’ve met Jay, and he’s a very cool guy. But coaches also have specialties. Your specialty is entrepreneurs with ADD — or ADHD if you prefer that — and his obviously isn’t. And is Becca a coach also?

Kit: No. I think she does marketing, and she’s like his co-host. She does the heavy lifting, and he’s the pretty face!

Randy: OK!

The other one was a few weeks ago, and The Resilience Element is a different kind of podcast, because it was not just audio: it’s on Youtube, so fans have the choice of listening, or watching while listening, and so we saw your pretty face on there. What is resiliency about?

Kit: Resiliency is having the tools in your arsenal of living to help you rise above the stuff that happens that will bring you down: death, divorces, war, having guns put in your face.

Randy: The kinds of things we all have to deal with, maybe not necessarily always that severe, but….

Kit: Yeah, and Francis also is a coach, and specializes in helping people increase their resilience.

Randy: And that’s part of what you do in your coaching work, is that right? And that’s a genuine question, because coaching is pretty confidential, and I stay completely away from you while you’re doing that work. So, do you also do some of that resiliency work when you coach?

Kit: I do. I don’t know if you remember that as an EMT, I kept finding myself in the support role for the witnesses, the patients’ family or friends. I’ve taken a handful of resiliency classes so I can better help them. That just automatically gets incorporated into my coaching because I think it is SO important.

Randy: I was actually going to bring up that in our street medic training we did learn about it, but you went a little further and actually took some multi-day classes as I recall.

Kit: I’ve taken three multi-day classes, yeah. One was a train-the-trainer class. And I’ve had life experience in helping friends with their situations.

Randy: OK. I’ll link to that one on the Show Page too, so that if listeners are interested in that, they can click through and watch that one also.

I also was a guest on a very popular podcast recently, and I was wondering why that hadn’t been released yet until last week, the host sent me an email saying the recording had been accidentally deleted and we have to do it again! That’s been scheduled for a few weeks from now, and I’ll let you know when that comes out toward the end of the year. Meanwhile, let this be a reminder that Kit and I are both available to be guests on podcasts, and you can contact us through this episode’s Show Page or the web site.

Last, there’s something nifty for folks who don’t already have a subscription to This is True’s text newsletter: a free downloadable PDF where I outline the 12 weirdest stories of last year, and choose one as the weirdest. You can get it immediately once you click the subscription verification link that’s sent to the email address you enter, and there was a download link in last week’s newsletter if you missed it. Again, to get it, sign up for free at thisistrue.com.

Have a story to tell about distracted driving — or bicycling — or otherwise just want to comment? Let us know on the Show Page, at thisistrue.com/podcast18

I’m Randy Cassingham…

Kit: And I’m Kit Cassingham.

Randy: And we’ll talk at you later.

[Easter egg]

10 thoughts on “Podcast 018: Think Harder

  1. I don’t understand something about the cyclist story. How could he get onto the tracks with the crossing arms *down*? They’re there to block *all* traffic; be it vehicle, bicycle, or even pedestrian. It seems to me that with the crossing arms down he would have had to *intentionally* swerve around them to get onto the tracks. Which, to me, would make him an even *bigger* obliviot.

    The source story didn’t address that, but crossing arms are designed for cars. Especially if he was going up the “wrong way,” there would not be crossing arms in his way. It’s also possible he was parallel to the tracks until he got to the crossing (e.g., on a bike path), and then turned in front of the train that was coming up from behind (before he crossed). -rc

  2. Very local news for me. I work for SMART, and live less than two miles from the incident. We spent a week in safety training before we were placed out with the public. There are so many people who do not recognize the danger from trains. Although the idiot featured above, with earbuds and staring at his screen, could just as easily have run a red light, and been run over by a Prius.

  3. The comment by a reader that cyclists already taking flak demonstrates a major part of the problem. A lot of the flak is self-inflicted, but that’s a whole different subject.

    Obliviosy is not reserved for any one group, and needs to be exposed, even if it is your own ox being gored.

    A potential future Darwin candidate, for sure.

  4. I do a lot of bike riding to get in shape for RAGBRAI (Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). Most of my riding is on bike trails where there are often pedestrians. Obviously calling out “On your left” is much preferred to surprising people as you pass. I have learned never to trust kids, dogs, or idiots with headphones or earbuds. I slow way down to pass. Last summer this saved a young girl and myself from injury. As I approached from behind I noticed from at least 100 yards away that she drifted back and forth across the trail as she was walking so I called out “On your left” quite a ways behind her. She continued to drift slowly across the trail from right to left right into my path so I kept saying “On your left” louder and louder until the 4th time I was really yelling — and then I saw the earbuds. I had slowed down to barely able to balance on the bike and stopped inches from her as she stepped right in front of me. She was quite startled to see me. I think I said something like “You’re going to get hurt doing that.” but I know she never heard a thing.

    The exact sort of person who isn’t thinking — and ends up getting hurt …or killed. -rc

  5. I always wear a helmet when I ride a bike. I have 2 smashed helmets to show others why. When I walk or ride the bus, I use a Bluetooth headset that covers only one ear just so I can hear what is going on around me. When I drive or ride, I turn the phone off. I’m getting old and I can get into trouble easy enough with out being distracted.

    I miss my youth. I grew up on a Montana ranch in the Little Belt Mountains. The nearest place to ours was 5 miles away. By the time I was 6, I could tell my folks where I was going and I would be off with my horse and dog. No radio let alone smartphone. It was the 3 of us and nature. I loved being alone. I don’t understand this obsession with distraction. There is so much to see and hear. I guess I’m getting too old!

  6. Distracted drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians is a problem, but I, for one, did not feel I needed a podcast to get me to think about this story. I felt that we were being treated as if we weren’t smart enough to get the point in the first place from just reading the story.

    What a fine example of reacting first, (apparently) taking offense, rather than thinking about it. Nowhere does it say that every reader “needed” a podcast to understand the thinking lesson from this story. And had you thought about it before whining, maybe you’d realize that not every reader grasps the point of the story, or even the publication as a whole. As I’ve said a number of times, a fundamental purpose of podcast is to speak to people who aren’t readers, and may have no idea as to what TRUE is about. So you got it without explanation; wonderful! Yet you can’t grasp that not everyone did, or will? While you dismiss them, I choose not to, in order to reach a wider audience to further spread the message that thinking matters. Clearly, you need to keep working at it. -rc

    • I wasn’t whining and I wasn’t taking offense. You keep asking for feedback and this was my feedback for this particular podcast. Sorry, you weren’t pleased.

      OK. I thought you were pretty clear about what your feelings were, and “offended” is how I interpreted your message. Thanks for clarifying. -rc

  7. You’ve finally put out something that I really disagree with. It seems to me that you have missed the point of Gerry’s letter, which was to make YOU think.

    Cycling has been my primary mode of transport since I was a first year undergraduate 25 years ago. I have taken a keen interest in cycle campaigning for most of that time, I self identify as a cyclist and I am occasionally an active cycle campaigner.

    Here in the UK, cyclists are a much villified and persecuted out group. Many non-cyclists see occasional bad behaviour by people on bikes and think that we are all imbecilic scofflaws. Whenever there is a story about someone on a bike doing something stupid, the press and others with anti-cycling prejudices make much of the fact that the person was a cyclist. Even when cyclists ride according to best practice as described through Bikeability training and in Cyclecraft (the Department for Transport’s official guidance on safe cycling), we get criticised by people who have never undertaken any kind of cycle training and have their own misguided notions about how to ride safely in traffic.

    Your tagline about “dumb cyclists” panders to the prejudices of those who think we’re all idiots. It shouldn’t do, but it does, and this turns out to be a serious problem to those of us who campaign for cyclists’ rights and safety on the public highway.

    The point of your story should be that the subject was an obliviot. The fact that he happened to be on a bike is barely relevant, but experience shows that many people will see it as a key factor in what happened. Gerry’s point, I think, is that your choice of words represents a serious problem that you might not be aware of to the cycling community.

    You also touch on the thorny issue of cycle helmets, suggesting that all cyclists should wear helmets. To someone who has never looked into the risks and benefits of helmets, who is unaware of risk homeostasis (on the part both of cyclists and of those around them), or of the effects of helmets on rates of rotational brain injuries and spinal injuries, that seems like common sense. I used to wear a helmet myself, until years of looking at evidence convinced me that, at least for the kind of cycling that I do, I’m safer without. I now choose, as an informed, educated adult, not to wear a helmet.

    So I’m to blame that “many people” will jump to an incorrect conclusion when I labeled him a “DUMB cyclist” in contrast to a “SMART train”? The entire point here is that there are smart cyclists, and there are obliviots, and it’s not too difficult to see why that is, and that there are quick and dire ramifications to not thinking here. Are there dumb cyclists? Obviously! Are there smart, engaged, safe cyclists? Obviously! Do some of those smart cyclists sometimes get hit by obliviot drivers? Obviously! Yet you complain that I “missed Gerry’s point” that I should have commented “about distracted driving” — which is exactly what I did. I put the blame precisely where it lay: on the cyclist. You think maybe he’s not to blame for distractedly riding right into the path of a train, and that someone else should have been criticized for his obliviocy? Fine: we completely disagree. -rc

  8. I saw nothing particularly wrong with the story. It placed the blame squarely where it belonged: on the fool who got bitten by biggest-idiot-award-level self-inflicted distraction.

    On the subject of helmets, I’m a somewhat regular cyclist myself and came to the same conclusion Danny above did. In short, there are two categories of studies out there, since there’s no way to run a double-blind study: the notoriously error-prone case control study, and whole-population studies watching the change demonstrated with relatively quick shifts in usage due to helmet laws. The former make helmets seem like a good idea, while the latter show no benefit or even a disbenefit. Then there is one rather interesting case control study that shows some benefit to helmets, but also examines a confounding factor: alcohol. Drunk cyclists seem to benefit from helmets, while the study finds no statistically significant benefit for sober cyclists.

    Looking at that, and putting it together with the position of most materials scientists I’ve read, namely that helmets are too flimsy to be of reliable use, and the opinions I’ve seen on the issue of the added size of a helmet being able to cause a “head impact” that would not have occurred without it, and the demonstrated issue of helmets in at least some cases causing rotational brain injury that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred, I conclude that for most riding by sober riders the odds are really long on a lifetime of riding being significantly improved by wearing a helmet.

    On the drunk/sober question, there exists good reason to believe it makes a difference. People naturally have a reflex to protect the head, which alcohol is likely to suppress. Thus, a drunk is more likely to hit something straight on, while the sober person will more likely have reflexively acted to protect the head already, something that the size of a helmet makes less effective.

    Of course, once you are in a crash, the odds of what happens in that crash go to either one or zero. Some crashes are exactly the right sort for a helmet to be helpful, while others are made worse. In most it doesn’t matter at all. The only thing to do is hope that if you’re in a crash where it makes a difference, that you got lucky and made the right choice for the day.

  9. I recall investigating many, many cases of bicycle vs car accidents and found that only two of them had the vehicle driver at fault — and one of them was only 50% at fault. Most of the bicyclists who got into an accident with a car were running a red light, running a stop sign, going in the wrong direction on the road or even on the sidewalk going the wrong way. And every one of them thought the CAR was at fault! Nope. Bicycles, by law, (in California, where I investigated them) must adhere and follow the same Rules of the Road as motor vehicles. Obliviots indeed!

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