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.

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Four more traffic myths

Shortly after I started this blog, I published a post on three traffic myths. Since that time, I have become aware of four more traffic myths that need to be addressed.

Myth #1: If the car in front of you stops too long at a stop sign, you are free to follow it through the intersection without an additional stop. I guess that some drivers believe that stop signs are about time and not about the flow of traffic. How else does one explain the frequency that one car follows another past the stop sign without actually stopping? The idea of taking turns seems foreign to drivers. At this point I’ve come to expect other drivers not to stop, to the extent that I’m sometimes surprised to see another driver follow the rules.

Myth #2: It is bad luck to be the first car at the light when it changes to green. The common belief in this myth explains the large number of drivers who keep on going in spite of the light changing first from green to yellow and then from yellow to red. The other day, I saw a near collision between a car going straight and another turning left, and both of them entered the intersection after the light had turned red. I don’t know what bad luck these drivers expect if they actually stop as soon as the light has changed to red, but clearly they would not engage in such risky driving without a good reason.

Myth #3: It is bad luck to stay in the same lane of a multi-line street for more than four blocks. Some drivers weave back and forth between lanes—without signaling, of course—because they are slaloming around drivers like me who stick to driving at the speed limit. Others wander from lane to lane because they are busy texting or talking on their cell phones. Some drivers change lanes at random times for no apparent reason. I know of one street in a major city that consists of three lanes, all the same direction. Driving on that street at any time feels like being in the miniature car feature of a parade, with vehicles constantly weaving in and out of one another’s path while all traveling at about the same speed.

Myth #4: Louder is better. I actually saw a sign on the back of a truck in a parking lot which said, “Loud pipes save lives.” A picture of a tailpipe was part of the sign to make the truck-owner’s meaning clear. If the sign had shown a bagpipe it would not have bothered me, but governments require mufflers on cars, trucks, and motorcycles for two reasons: they reduce the noise of the vehicles, and they also filter out some of the air pollution. Vehicle owners who alter their mufflers so their vehicles make more noise are creating more air pollution in addition to more noise pollution. If I cannot hear my car radio over the sound of your engine, your engine is too loud. As I get older and crabbier, I am more likely to mention that fact to you if we are stopped next to each other at a red light.

As always these myths are being exposed as fallacies for the common good of all drivers. You are welcome.

J.