Better And Better

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Traffic.

I come from a small town, originally. Actually, "town" is an over-statement; it was a place where a few hundred people lived, and had a couple of churches, a service station, a post office, a school, and a small grocery store. The big intersection was where a state highway intersected a Farm To Market road, and only the FM had stop signs. The biggest traffic snarl that we ever saw in my town as a kid was the 10 minutes preceding the late bell at the elementary/junior high school every morning, and the 10 minutes after school let out every afternoon. Trains would cause backups, but only until the caboose went by (when was the last time I saw a working caboose?).

We would occasionally head into Big City, where the traffic was legend. To hear folks talk about it, you would be bumper-to-bumper at 80 miles per hour for the first half of your trip, and stop-and-go (mostly stop) for the second half.

As I grew up and learned to drive, I took a special pride in my ability to drive in Big City traffic on my forays into the maw of post-industrial urbanized hell. I wasn't just some country bumpkin-- I could drive with the big boys. I never subscribed to the whole concept that "you have to drive like them, or you'll never get anywhere, and you'll get into an accident." I was told repeatedly that you had to hug the bumper of the car in front of you, or you would be cut off repeatedly. But that seems like a good way to cause a rear-end collision, so I've always held to the concept that we need a goodly following distance. Cut in in front of me, and I'll have to increase it for your rear bumper, too, I guess.

Following even just a little closely doesn't get you there faster-- it slows the whole process down. Attend me: If you have to tap your brakes the second that you see that you're beginning to close the distance with the car preceding you, then the cars behind you have to tap their brakes when they see your brake lights. It creates a chain reaction behind you that results in stop-and-go traffic. Literally, if everyone just left enough room to coast to a slower speed rather than hitting their brakes every time, we could mostly eliminate stop-and-go traffic. Yes, I would HAPPILY rather go 30mph on a highway than stop and go. Make that 20mph.

Then there are the minor fender benders. Usually they're caused by hugging someone's bumper and not being able to stop in time when they hit the brakes, but occasionally they're caused by bad passing. (More on lane changes in a minute-- I've got a bone to pick on signalling.) People have these little "meetings" in the middle lane of the interstate, and then get out and stand there looking at their crumpled bumpers. For half and hour! It's a minor fender-bender, people! NOT a fatality accident! Get your asses over to the shoulder of the road to exchange insurance. Guy in front: Wave to the guy in back, and point to the shoulder or to the next exit, and slowly pull off the road with the other guy. If he doesn't follow you, get on the cell and report his butt-- he's not getting far. The traffic law in Texas requires that you clear the road if possible. Do it, before you cause another accident. Please.

Then there's the folks that have to look at the accident. Look, if it's in your lane, or you have to drive around it, then by all means slow down for safety. But if it's not in your lane or worse, it's on the other side of the freeway across the divider, keep your attention to your own lane and keep moving, please. There are few things more irritating than being in stop-and-go traffic caused by gawkers looking at the wreck across the median. Oh, wait: I just thought of one: being in STOPPED traffic caused by the rear-end collisions caused by the gawkers looking at the traffic accident on the other side is more frustrating.

All of this may make me sound like I'm a really frustrated driver, given to fits of road rage. Actually, no. If somebody cuts me off and I can tell that they just didn't see me, I probably don't even honk my horn except to tell them that I'm there to avoid a collision. I'm human. They're human. I've sure screwed up like that before, and wanted a hole to climb into; I assume most of those people do, too. Chasing them down to yell at them really doesn't make me happy. Would it make anyone so?

But what's the deal with turn signals? Most automobiles built in the last half century have a device built into the steering wheel column that sticks out on the left side of the wheel. By extending the left pinkie finger, the driver may actuate that device down (I.E., in the counter-clockwise direction of the wheel) to signal a left turn, and up (I.E., in the clockwise direction of the wheel) to signal a right turn. The laws of every state in the United States, to the best of my knowledge, require the use of a turn signal some distance prior to turning or changing lanes. In Texas, the Traffic Code requires that the turn signal be displayed continuously for at least 100 feet prior to making the lane change or turning. Is your light burned out? No problem: the Traffic Code provides for that, too-- they're called hand signals.

But people don't use them, as they weave through the heaviest of traffic.


Why? Is it just too. Much. Trouble. . . to stick out your itty bitty wittle finger, and waggle it up or down, and let the rest of us know what amazing maneuver you're about make next? Is it that you'd rather keep it a secret? I've actually had people tell me that they don't use their turn signal in heavy traffic because the driver behind them in the next lane over will speed up to keep them from changing lanes. Oh, good lord! Paranoid, much? I think most people just think they're too damned busy driving to be bothered with stupid little technicalities like signals. Clue: The fact that the traffic is so busy that it requires all your concentration should tell you that signalling your intent to change lanes would be a good idea.


_ _ _


I see that John B had a little road rage the other day.


This is not to be confused with escalator rage, but they have kindred emotions.

Then there is Traffic Direction Rage. I felt a twinge and saw a brother officer feel some of that once or twice the other day.

Like many little towns in the area, our little town had a little autumn event. In my day, we had honest-to-Gawd Halloween carnivals, but now we tend to call them Fall Festival. (Ow. It hurts my head when I roll my eyes that hard.) So part of this event involved getting some crosswalks established across a heavily-used state highway during drive-home time. I got to stand in the middle of the intersection of a state highway and a heavily-traveled farm-to-market road from 1600 to 1800, using my hands to urge vehicles to stop, turn, or drive through the stop intersection without stopping, while my brethren acted as crossing guards. As traffic stacked up almost a mile up the road, I began urging traffic through faster and faster, and holding up the crosswalks for longer periods of time.



It had been a few years since I had really had to do any complicated traffic direction, and I took a few minutes to get back into it. One thing I learned early on is: NEVER urge one lane to move without your other hand up to halt the intersecting lane. So, though I was slightly inefficient to begin with, I never created a dangerous situation.

After a while, I hit my stride. Full-arm movements. Large gestures that could be seen and interpreted from blocks away. Faster movements to signal that I wanted them to speed up. Head nods with my straw Stetson to let them know that I saw them. Head shakes to let people when I would not let them go someplace where they wanted to go. Significant pointing at cars to let the drivers know that the next gesture was directed at you, Sir.



But what kept getting me, over and over again, was the people that would try to turn when I gestured for them to move straight ahead, because that was where they had intended to go all along, but nobody else knew this... because they hadn't turned on their turn signal. Often this was accompanied by cell phone use. They would pull out into the intersection and turn... into a crosswalk full of kids.

I have a baritone speaking voice, for the most part, but when the volume goes up, the pitch rises a bit as well, to tenor. "Stop" becomes "STOP!"

Occasionally I would loudly say "Turn signals!" and the drivers would sometimes glance at me in annoyed incomprehension.


Sometimes, I might have been heard to say, "Hang up, and use your turn signals!"


My partner at one of the crosswalks, having warned the kids in the crosswalk to avoid yet another car that had turned into the crosswalk without using turn signals, would scream at them: "Hang up and learn to drive! Ever heard of turn signal?" It got worse from there. He was very unhappy with the drivers. Well, so was I, too, with some of them.

But I smiled, and thanked people who had sat in traffic for their patience.

Hard to do. When you're dodgin' traffic, and so are the kids, it's hard to show social graces.

But worth it. More on that, later.

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14 Comments:

At Monday, October 29, 2007 12:10:00 PM, Blogger Brandon said...

Last week on my way to work, I came across a truck that tried to make a right turn from one two-lane road onto another. He didn't make the corner and wound up in the ditch, blocking half the road on both sides of the intersection.

As I approached the intersection, the light turned red, and I stopped. One of my kids asked me what happened, and as I explained, I began to hear someone yelling.

I looked up, and to my horror found an officer standing in the intersection pointing at himself with both hands and yelling, "Look at me!"

He waved me on through the intersection, and as I passed him, I pointed overhead at the light and said, "Sorry! I was looking at the light." He already knew that, of course, and I felt like a complete moron.

I guess it was just my day to be the traffic idiot. I drove the rest of the way to work that day with a little more forgiveness toward my fellow drivers, and a lot more attention to the road.

 
At Monday, October 29, 2007 1:40:00 PM, Blogger David said...

I'm a big believer in turn signals. However lately it seems that signaling for a lane change tells the other driver to speed up and keep me from moving over. It's easier to just move over into the open space. In Nebraska you were required by law to yield to a signal to change lanes. Unfortunately in Arizona it doesn't appear to be quite that clear cut.

However I plan to get a bumper sticker that says:
"My turn signal is a warning, not a request".

 
At Monday, October 29, 2007 10:30:00 PM, Anonymous Thane said...

"I've actually had people tell me that they don't use their turn signal in heavy traffic because the driver behind them in the next lane over will speed up to keep them from changing lanes. Oh, good lord! Paranoid, much?"

I've been cut off by drivers more times than I can count, who accelerated as soon as they saw my signal. I've been nearly hit by morons doing this time and again. It's not paranoia at all, 'cause there ARE jerks who do this.

That being said, failure to signal a turn/lane change is ANOTHER pet peeve; for every person I've had to dodge as they accelerated into my turn signal, I've avoided at least three or more idiots who tried to change lanes into me, sans signal.

I love driving, but I loathe traffic.

 
At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 12:41:00 AM, Anonymous DaveH said...

Bill Beaty wrote a wonderful rant on Traffic Waves and how just one person can help to smooth out the flow of traffic for a large number of cars.

Check it out at:
http://www.amasci.com/amateur/traffic/traffic1.html

Part two is here:
http://amasci.com/amateur/traffic/trafexp.html

I used to drive from Seattle to Bellingham while I was moving up there -- his stuff works!

 
At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 6:50:00 AM, Blogger Farmmom said...

You have hit some of my pet peeves right on the head here Matt. Working as a Traffic Control Supervisor for more than 12 years has taught me that if there is room for someone to be STUPID they will. And since drivers are like sheep if one does it everyone else will too.
I have had people cuss me out for not letting them turn when they don't use their turn signals. I have made a command decision on my sites. If a driver wants to turn they MUST use their turn signal. If they don't use a turn signal they MUST go on, turn around and come back.
Directing traffic in a 4 way intersection is always fun. We have had several instances when the State has decided that we only need one flagger in an intersection like that. Try to do it with a stop/slow paddle by the way. I had to convince a State Engineer that it was a hazard to do it that way.
As the years go by and traffic gets worse I wonder just what ever happened to Road COURTESY!
I will be quiet now since I could go on and on on this subject but know that I understand and completely agree with you on this subject. You just put it better

 
At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 8:10:00 AM, Anonymous Blackwing1 said...

The explanation is actually much easier:

There's a nationwide blinker-fluid shortage.

No one uses their turn signals because they're conserving their blinker fluid. Who knows what might happen if they run out of blinker fluid? Their turn signals might not work...

 
At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 8:36:00 AM, Blogger LauraB said...

Ah, traffic. We moved from Atlanta where traffic is...well, I refused to work a normal shift just to avoid it.

But here is my thing - if you signal, I'll let you in every time. If not, screw you.

And, if you drive like a puke, you get cursed - incessant itching in the inner ear, incontinence on the airplane, deep itching in the nethers - it escalates according to the infraction. I leave without being all enraged and karma takes care of it.

 
At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 11:29:00 AM, Blogger Matt G said...

"But here is my thing - if you signal, I'll let you in every time. If not, screw you."

I'm right there with you, Laura.

 
At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 1:36:00 PM, Blogger The Lily said...

i've been trying to formulate a NOVA driving experience blog for weeks. This is perfect.

 
At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 3:36:00 PM, Blogger Murphy said...

Where I'm at, people use a finger while driving, but it's not the pinkie finger, and it's not for turn signals...

 
At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 8:36:00 PM, Blogger lurch said...

Matt,
Did you grow up in Newark? You described it to a T.

 
At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 8:54:00 AM, Blogger Danielle said...

Matt, as farmmom said, you just put it better than we can. I have had several close calls, and have aphilosophy similar to LauraB's: "But here is my thing - if you signal, I'll let you in every time. If not, screw you."
I am in FULL agreement with rubbernecking and people on the other side of a Large highway who try and see something 100 yards away- don't bother. One incident that nearly caused my head to explode was when I worked about 40 miles north of Big City where I lived. On my way home traffic came to a stand still 5 miles out of little town. 45 minutes of less-than-5-mph-driving later, I see the cause of the hold up. There is a 6 car caravan in the wide grass median. I, of course, wonder what could have necessitated driving that slowly, since the cars were on the other side of the center median.
They were having a picnic.
In the median.
Coolers and blankets and kids running back and forth to all the cars in the middle of I-25 north. In rush hour traffic. Never mind there was an exit a mile behind them and another one 6 miles ahead, followed by many more. I was apoplectic. I think I even began twitching a bit. Luckily, I made it home safely, but traffic is an abomination. I salute you for dealing with a much larger number of ijits on a daily basis. I think I would have an aneurysm.
Turtled28

 
At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 10:47:00 AM, Blogger LauraB said...

Oh - and I have a grand idea for rubberneckers. All emergency vehicles should have a series of light codes that the public could learn. Red and strobes means blood and guts, decapitations and the like - SLOW AND LOOK!!

Maybe something soothing like blue and pink for the plain ol' blown tire.

And a disco ball spattering of white light for that drunk driver.

I think it'd work!!

 
At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 12:05:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

Funny, funny stuff, Laura.

 

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