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Baumgarten: Defensive driving lessons in Dickinson

I’ve tried to hold off on this column for as long as I can. I’ve made it about seven months. Is that enough time spent in Dickinson to talk about defensive driving?

If not, it doesn’t matter. I’ve had about five close calls since I’ve been back here, most of them involving trucks and children. Even though everyone is talking about traffic these day, I think it is my turn to touch on the subject. Just let me get my spectacles on and play Grandma April.

Let me tell you a couple stories, children. What brought on this little column was multiple incidents. The breaking point, however, happened Monday. I was driving east down 12th Street West and getting ready to turn right into the T-Rex Plaza parking lot. I had my blinker on to turn right long before I made my turn. Mind you, there was space on my right side to pass, but that would have been illegal.

Mr. Black Pickup didn’t seem to think so. I was lucky enough to look in my rearview mirror as he made his move to pass me on the right, this after I had signaled to him I was turning that way. Am I being grandma enough?

Well, I did something very ungrandmotherly. I decided to express my feelings through my horn. I never usually do this, but after seven months of seeing so many close calls I felt could have caused serious damage.

The driver of the pickup felt he needed to express himself with his middle finger.

Maybe I should not have used my horn, and it is one of my rules when someone does something stupid on the road. Why? For the most part, people make mistakes and do feel bad. The people that don’t feel bad are either going to give you the bird or possibly stop and start a confrontation. The last thing I want is a gun in my face for losing my temper, so I try to avoid using the horn.

It’s all part of being a defensive driver. In the hussle and bussle of the Oil Patch, it’s never a bad idea to take extra time, drive a little slower and take an extra look.

Case in point: I had stopped at a four-way-stop intersection. I had looked both ways before creeping out into the intersection. Then I heard a roaring and stopped to look. My head panned left as I watched a red pickup test out his exhaust pipe and speed acceleration, right through the intersection without even attempting to stop.

I probably would have died that day if I hadn’t looked again, just like when I decided not to pass a person on the right side of the road. This situation was different because the woman was in the left turning lane but had her right signal on. Sure enough, she had decided to turn right. If I had passed her, I would have hit her.

Finally, I have had my run in — figuratively — with children. Teenagers seem to think they own the road not only in their vehicles but on their bikes and skateboards. On more than one occasion — usually at night — teens thought it was alright to ignore stop signs, along with oncoming traffic. I understand pedestrians have the right of way, but there is no reason to ride into oncoming traffic and expect people to stop.

In these situations, I could have used my horn or gotten out of my car to chew out the offenders, but I thought it would be better for the public to learn from their mistakes. We can be as careful as we want. We can follow all the rules of the road. There are still going to be people that make mistakes or are just idiots in a hurry.

So here is my advice. Give yourself some extra time to get where you are going. Drive the speed limit. Give yourself extra space for everything, including merging, passing and driving behind people. Keep your eyes peeled and on the road instead of distracting yourself. And if your gut tells you someone is going to do something stupid, don’t take the chance to trust their “good judgment.”

And finally, be patient. Because the best offense is a good defense, even if it means laying off the horn. You can be mad, but it won’t help when you are in the hospital or your car is in the shop.

Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at Like her on Facebook at Follow her at

April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.