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
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
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.
Labels: day at the office, driving, life interfering with fun, problems, public service message, Questions