Dazed and confused

Is this the right...wait, how did I drive into this lake?! 

David Matthews / May 02, 2017
David Matthews

Death defying

James Sundby is lucky to be alive after surviving two near-death experiences in one night.

Late one Friday night this past March, Sundby ran a stop sign at a T-intersection in Alexandria, Minn., barreling over the curb, through someone’s yard and straight off a 40-ft embankment. Sundby’s car flew 200 ft over open water before landing upside down on a frozen section of Lake Le Homme Dieu.

“The fact that guy is even alive is a miracle,” Alexandria’s police chief told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.

Sundby not only survived, he was able to walk away from the wreckage in search of help. He was disoriented, however, and after wading through some frigid lake water to get back to shore, he began knocking on doors of nearby homes asking for help.

One of those homes belonged to Andy Armstrong, who had turned in at 10 p.m. after an exhausting week-long work trip. In his weary state, he forgot to lock his front door.

Around 3:30 a.m., Armstrong was jolted awake when a bloody stranger flipped on his bedroom light.

“What are you doing here?” Armstrong yelled. “You need to get out of my house immediately.”

It was Sundby, who immediately apologized and told Armstrong that he had crashed his car and didn’t know where he was.

Breaking into someone’s house in the middle of the night and surprising them in their bedroom is another great way to get killed, but fortunately luck was on Sundby’s side again.

Armstrong believed his story and, seeing that Sundby’s face was banged up and his sleeves were bloody, decided to offer him help rather than beat him down with a golf club.

Sundby said he was OK and left (though not before mistakenly changing into Armstrong’s shoes).

With Armstrong’s help, police were able to locate Sundby about 20 minutes later wandering through the neighborhood.

Police were surprised to find no drugs or alcohol in Sundby’s system. He was just shaken up, cold and disoriented, and still has no memory of his crash or how it happened.

All right already

While a death-defying car crash can explain Sundby’s disorientation, it’s hard to figure out why so many other drivers seem confused, especially when it comes to driving in the proper lane on a highway.

While all states have “slowpoke laws” requiring dawdling drivers to keep right, some states have recently begun cracking down on left-lane drivers.

Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia are just the latest to consider legislation that would make the left lane of a highway for passing only.

Left-lane campers are definitely annoying, but are they dangerous? This question has stalled proposed bills in states like Ohio, North Carolina and Mississippi.

Proponents of left-lane laws argue that speeding is clearly a safety threat, and often the left lane is used by speeders to blow by other vehicles. Slower left-lane hogs also can cause other drivers to change lanes unnecessarily to get around, which can be dangerous. 

Left-lane cruisers also can impede the flow of traffic and increase congestion, which is annoying to everyone and a major contributor to road rage.

Brain power

GPS systems may reduce confusion behind the wheel, but that doesn’t mean that they’re good for our brains.

In the olden days when we had to use things like maps and TripTiks to find our way around, it gave our brain a little exercise and kept it nimble.

When we drive, our hippocampus uses memory and direction to simulate possible paths to a particular destination, and our prefrontal cortex helps us decide which of those is the best option.

A 2011 study by University College London found that this kind of stimulation can actually strengthen these areas of the brain.

Brain scans of London taxi drivers found that the size of their hippocampus grew while studying for The Knowledge, London’s legendary taxi-driver exam which requires candidates to memorize the city’s 25,000 streets and every business or landmark on them.

On the other hand, researchers found that those areas of the brain can switch off when we rely on GPS too much.

As a result, our brains are slower to respond to unexpected obstacles, and before you can say, “Has that stop sign always been there?” you’re driving off a 40-ft embankment and crashing into a frozen lake.

About the Author

Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news since 2000. The stories are all true.

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