Why do they call it “rush hour” when no one can possibly rush?

Heavy traffic never results in enjoyable driving. These observations on driving in heavy traffic are based both on actual laws and on common sense. They might be better expressed in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, but for now, I am using this forum to teach drivers what they should already know.

  • Unless you are a Shriner driving a midget car in a parade, you do not need to change lanes two or three times every block. You and I will be stopped by the same traffic light. The only difference is that the other drivers will not be saying bad things about me.
  • You have a turn signal on your steering column for a reason—use it! Driving in heavy traffic is no occasion to submit to your whim to be mysterious and unpredictable. Don’t start the signal as you begin the turn. The point is to give advance warning to other drivers what you intend to do.
  • When the traffic is heavy on the expressway, employ the zipper merge. When cars are crawling well below the speed limit and traffic is entering from a ramp, or when two lanes combine into one, drivers should stay in their lane until the point of the merge, and then they should take turns—one from the right, then one from the left, and so on. This is the most efficient way to use the pavement and to get every driver where he or she wants to be.
  • When leaving the expressway and entering city traffic, do not try to zipper merge. That Yield sign is there for you. A traffic light will give you a chance to join the traffic, usually in less than a moment. Don’t try to push your way into traffic ahead of your turn. (The sixth point is related to this point.)
  • Do not enter an intersection controlled by a traffic light if you will not be able to exit the intersection before the light turns red. Claiming your spot in the intersection while the light changes is both rude and illegal. Wait your turn.
  • Right-turn-on-red should not be claimed in heavy traffic. You may turn right at a red light only if there is no nearby traffic facing the green light. When a driver obeys the fifth point, above, that is not an invitation for you to get in front of that driver. A friendly smile and wave does not make it alright.
  • When you leave home, make sure that you have enough gasoline in your tank to reach your destination. You do not want to run out of gas on a bridge over the river, making the bridge even more of a bottleneck that it was already. You do not want to have your car sitting, stalled on the bridge, protected by a police car with flashing lights, while some kind motorist gets you to a gas station to buy an emergency gallon of gas in a red gas can. You especially do not want this to happen to you if your license plate proudly identifies you as GERALD.

Let’s be careful out there. J.

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Traffic sighs

For more than a year I have been taking medicine to reduce anxiety. As a result, I am a calmer driver than I used to be. When other drivers do foolish or dangerous or illegal things, I used to shout and lose my temper. I would arrive at work already out of sorts, a bad way to start the day. Now I just sigh, or roll my eyes, or grit my teeth. I might grumble something sarcastic, such as, “Nice turn signal you didn’t use there.” I might even bark out a brief complaint. For the most part, though, I’m doing better behind the wheel than I was doing a year or two ago.

I am the kind of driver who stops at red lights. Even if the light turns yellow while I am still a thousand yards or more from the intersection, I begin slowing rather than planning to drive through the red light. As a result, I am often the front car in the group waiting for a light to change green. Of course when the light turns from green to yellow, I check my mirrors; if another driver is close behind me, I might not stop at the changing light. Many a time I have gone through an intersection when I thought I should have stopped, only to have another car or two follow me past the red light. Many a time I have seen the light turn green, but two more cars from the other direction entered and cleared the intersection before it was safe for me to start. The effect is like that of watching something from a distance, seeing the action before you hear the sound. Sometimes I wonder if the synapses between my eyes and my brain are faster than average, since I seem to notice the change of traffic lights more quickly than the average driver.

The last week has produced some other traffic sighs in my car. Not once, but twice—twice!—this week the following scenario happened. My light was green and I was approaching the intersection, when a driver facing a red light decided to take advantage of the right-turn-on-red privilege. There was room enough to squeeze one car ahead of me and I did not sigh about that right-turn-on-red, but I did react when a second car followed the first car into the intersection, turning right on red without coming to a stop and coming within a few feet of mutual damage to both our cars.

An even scarier near-event happened closer to home one morning this week. Less than a mile from my house I must turn left onto a road where there is a two-way stop: the northbound and southbound traffic has to stop, but the eastbound and westbound drivers are cross and need not stop. Parked cars in driveways and on the road make it hard to see the cross traffic, especially that coming from the right when I am trying to turn left. This time of year, the rising sun aligns with the westbound traffic, requiring extra attention to my left before making a turn. A speed bump has been built to slow the eastbound traffic, coming from my right, but the speed bump only makes the decision whether or not to turn more complicated. Predicting which drivers will slow for the speed bump and which will hit it at full speed makes the decision whether to turn or to wait about as certain as a coin flip, but with a much higher risk potential.

So that morning I came to the intersection, stopped at the stop sign, and (as I always do) looked right and left and scanned the intersection. My top priority is watching for cars, trucks, and other moving vehicles, but I am also alert for joggers, bicyclists, dogs, and small children. Nothing was coming from the left, but two cars were coming from the right, so I waited. By the time the two cars crossed the speed bump and cleared the intersection, a car was coming out of the sun from the left, so I waited. When that car had passed in front of me, I saw two cars—a dark-colored car to my right, but slowing for the speed bump, and a white-colored car approaching the intersection in front of me, not yet arrived at its stop sign. The occasion seemed propitious, so I made my left turn. Afterward I checked my mirrors, expecting the dark-colored car to be behind me. Instead, the white car was behindmethisclosetome. Not only was it clear that the driver had not stopped at the stop sign; even a “rolling stop” would have had the white car farther behind me.

A year or two ago I would have been screaming my head off at that white car and its driver. Now a simple sigh and a roll of the eyes is all I produced. The proper medication can make a world of difference in one’s attitude, even behind the wheel. J.