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.


Murphy’s Gremlins–part two

Note: this post and the preceding post summarize a book that I have tried more than once to write, but I have never been able to finish it.

Murphy’s Gremlins enforce the law that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. They strive to bring the greatest inconvenience to the greatest number of people. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they can be beat.

I struggled with the gremlins for a long, long time before I discovered a system that leads to victory. I call it the TAP system, because its three steps are remembered by the initials T, A, and P.

T stands for trust. As twelve-step programs say, you must believe in a higher power. Things go wrong every day, small things and big things, but evil has been defeated by good. Trust that someone is in control, someone who cares about you and is bigger than all your problems. When the gremlins seem to be pulling ahead of you, take a breath and remember the higher power. Assure yourself that, because there is nothing that power cannot handle, therefore there is nothing that the two of you together cannot handle.

A stands for act. Don’t let your frustrations paralyze you. If a problem can be fixed, do what you have to do to fix it. If you need to call in a professional, make the call. Plumbing and electricity can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and the gremlins will definitely take over when you try to fix something that you do not understand. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to learn. If you have time to figure out how to replace a piece of pipe under the sink or a light switch, go ahead and do the job. Nothing feels better than putting a gremlin in its place by acquiring the satisfaction of a new skill or ability.

P stands for play. No, that is not a misprint; prayer comes under the category of trust. Find humor in the work of the gremlins, and learn to beat them at their own game. Buy a sandwich when you are in a hurry, and let the gremlins decide whether you get the green lights or the chance to eat your sandwich. Either way you win. Make a game out of the traffic lights. Pretend that the twenty lights between work and home are games on a team’s schedule, and keep track of the team’s record. If that gets boring, use your time in traffic to count things. Count Volkswagen beetles. Count yellow cars. Keep track of out-of-state license plates. If counting is not in your line, see if you can assemble a rainbow from the different colored cars around you on the road.

Play with the gremlins at home. Name them if you want. Talk to them if you want. Let them know that they cannot beat you. But do not forget that you are playing. You and I both know that Murphy’s Gremlins aren’t really there. They are simply a way of making small problems even smaller. They are a way to overcome frustration with humor. They are a way of reminding yourself not to take life all that seriously.

Murphy’s Gremlins can be beat, especially when you remember that they are not really there.


Three traffic myths

I have to drive every day, and generally I do not enjoy driving. In fact, I find driving very stressful. The commercials that claim that driving certain cars is fun do not connect with me. Part of the stress of driving is sharing the road with other drivers. They do not follow the same rules that I was taught. In fact, I have noticed three myths that seem to be believed by a large number of drivers.
Myth # 1: When two cars approach a four-way stop and one of the cars comes to a complete stop, the other car is permitted to cross the intersection without stopping. I guess I understand the logic behind this myth. Why should both of us be inconvenienced by a silly little rule? As long as one car is stopped, neither one is in any danger. If I’m always going to be the law-abiding citizen, I should expect others to take advantage of my naivety. After all, it appears that I’m inviting them to go first. That’s not how it feels to me. To me, it seems that they want to play a game of chicken in the middle of the intersection.
Myth #2: Turn signals are always optional, but the best time to signal a turn is while you are making the turn, especially if it is a left turn. I know, I know, even the best driver sometimes forgets to signal a turn. Sometimes a good driver remembers to signal when it’s too late. Even so, I’ve seen so many turn signals that began as the car was turning that I really think some drivers believe this myth. I’m just trying to get home from work, and I’m driving in the fast lane to avoid those cars coming out of parking lots and driveways. I come to a red light, and one car is in front of me at the light. The light turns green. Then the turn signal comes on, and I have to sit there while we both wait for the oncoming traffic to clear. Meanwhile all the other drivers, who weren’t fooled by this one driver’s clever trick, pass us on the right, driving in the slow lane.
Myth #3: “Right turn on red” means that the cars approaching the green light should yield to the right-turning car facing the red light. This myth seems most prominent when drivers have just gotten off the interstate and come to a red light at the top of the ramp. They have been in a situation where lanes of traffic merge, and now they are not thinking about traffic signals. Yet it happens other places too. The car with the green light has to brake to avoid hitting the car with the red light. Amazingly, I’ve even seen a driver facing a green light invite the driver of a car facing a red light to make their turn. Don’t these people know that traffic engineers set the timing of the lights for the greatest convenience of the largest number of people? On the other hand, a basic traffic rule says that one should not enter an intersection unless they are sure they can get through the intersection. Sometimes, when the traffic is heavy, I or the driver in front of me will follow that rule. Almost invariably, the driver facing the red light will accept that as in invitation to make the turn.
I encounter drivers like this every day. I was going to say that I run into drivers like this every day, but I try very hard to avoid running into them. They don’t make it easy. A little less carelessness, a little more careful and considerate (and legal!) driving, and we will all get where we are going. Could we try this some day?