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Wheels III

Picking up from last week: Obnoxious? Let me continue to count the ways.

STOP! As I understand the social compact, we all concede that governors on human behavior are required to sustain order, that those restraints must apply to all equally, and that all subject to them must observe them if they are to fulfill their functions. Red traffic signals and stop signs are two simple manifestations – incapable, it seems to me, of being misunderstood. Yet:

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2004 more than 9,100 people died and another 1.5 million people were injured in intersection-related crashes.
  • According to 2004 data from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting and General Estimates Systems, crashes caused by red light running resulted in as many as 854 fatalities and more than 168,000 injuries. In addition, approximately 40 percent of all crashes are intersection-related.

Last year, Farmers Insurance Group did a random written survey of driving habits of about 1,000 people and found that –

  • More than 36% of motorists admitted to driving through a red light in the past year even though such wrongdoing is a major cause of vehicular crashes in urban areas.
  • More men (42.2%) than women (30.9%) said they had driven through a red light in the past year.
  • Some 48.6% of those in the 18 to 34 age group said they had driven through a stoplight in the past year.
  • Seven of those surveyed acknowledged that they were habitual offenders, saying that they have gone through more than 20 red lights in the last year.

Have we established that you are a moron and a menace if you run a red light or fail to stop at a stop sign? You’re not finished yet; please measure yourself against the following behaviors:

  • Become Bi! Have you encounters drivers stopped at an intersection whom you see looking away from you but who don’t look in your direction before they start moving? What causes this behavior, a lack of equilibrium from being dropped on one’s head as an infant?
  • C’mon; I dare ya! Do you barrel up to stop signs at an unreasonable rate, slam on the brakes, and then vigorously and cheerfully motion to hesitant pedestrians to go right ahead and cross in front of you? Are you insane?
  • Complete Stop. Oxymoron aside, the sign’s legend isn’t an acronym for “Slow to Observe for Police.” Unwind them wheels so you can check in all directions – pausing your cell phone conversation if necessary.
  • Me next! At an intersection where all crossings are controlled by stop signs, motorists proceed in the order in which they arrive. Common courtesy, people!
  • Once is enough. The injunction applies to you, individually, not you and the one or more drivers ahead of you who actually stop. Hit the pits, Dale, Jr. – no drafting!
  • Rollin’. In my exurban neighborhood, all the corners have been rounded and the curbs interrupted by ramps to be ADA-compliant. What that means is it’s now possible to roll halfway around the corner with much less effort – meaning further that some drivers can’t resist the temptation to keep moving halfway into the intersection before stopping or checking oncoming traffic. This plays Hell with you if you’re the oncoming driver because you haven’t made eye contact, so you have no idea what happens next. Stop at the crosswalk and look, you creep!

Signal Corpse. “OMIGOD! Hey, Jaaan’frrrr! Put down the LG Chocolate, latté, mascara, or whatever; I have something totally awesome to tell yew! There’s, like a magic stick on the left side of the car turner thingy that tells the future! You, like, push it and it tells other gize in other cars that you’re, like, going that way before you ockshully dew! How very cool is thot!” Oh, if only… If you’re entering a controlled intersection and plan to turn left where there’s no dedicated lane and arrow, please please use your signal – and soon enough so that those of us behind you can change lanes. Handy hint: using your signal for a cursory second or two after you’ve already forced yourself in front of somebody without warning not only doesn’t count, it’s the vehicular equivalent of waving gaily at someone you’ve just elbowed aside.

Spaced. Is it just me or are way too many drivers – especially those in oversized vehicles – spatially stupid? They have no reasonable idea how much relative space there is around the vehicle, especially the passenger side. I wish I had a percentage insurance discount for every time I’ve had to slow and pull over for Sissy SUV, who’s taking her half of the thoroughfare out of the middle, with six feet to spare on her starboard side. Everyone should have to take a driver’s test on license renewal and there should be clearance tests. Maybe those little metal rods with the fluorescent balls on the top that truckers use should be bolted to every front and rear bumper of anything larger than a Mini. Same problem, same vehicles in parking situations, even where those handy little stripes that are conveniently visible in side-view mirrors are present. Thanks, Ernie Expedition, for making me get in the passenger side and wrestle myself over the console because you felt you needed to overcompensate, so you could rappel your fat ass back to Earth.

Supersize me! Besides overstepping the stripes and being much too pressed to straighten themselves in regulation spaces, how many Yuppie Yukons, Cowboy Cadillacs, and other leviathans have you counted berthed in “COMPACT ONLY” spaces? These self-centered lunkheads cause me to think very dark thoughts, which usually involved a stencil, spray paint, and the word “Asshole!”. (I had a friend who had some tasteful note cards printed, suitable for leaving under windshield wipers, that read in tasteful script: “Thank you – because you’re occupying two spaces, I had to walk two extra blocks, you stupid, inconsiderate bastard. Have a wonderful day.” I like my idea better, but there always seem to be witnesses. Let’s face it: in California, next to abducting, abusing, and killing a small girl, there’s no surer way to the Horizontal Hi-Dee-Ho than disrespecting someone else’s personal transportation.)

Swing Out, Sweet Chariot. Where on God’s green Earth does anyone in a Japanese sedan acquire the notion he or she needs to jog the wheel in the opposite direction to safely make a turn? Bulletin: unless your vehicle is exceptionally long or articulated in the middle – like a semi-tractor or a San Francisco MUNI bus – this maneuver is pointless. If you don’t believe me, coat your tires in paint and try it both ways; you’ll not only have visible proof – if the rest of us are fortunate, you’ll also bring a smile to some cop’s face.

Whirligigs. Here in Sacramento traffic engineers – desperate to protect bicyclists; pedestrians; children of tender years; and other sentient beings from commuters, excessive speed, and other abominations – have taken to decorating intersections with “traffic relaxers.” These range from concrete planters with festive shrubbery and reflective tape to full-on [pick the term that best matches local custom and usage] traffic circles/rotaries/roundabouts. Theory’s good but personal observation feeds the notion that their function is to turn a straight-line hurtle into a swerving, fishtailing hurtle, thereby bringing parked cars, lampposts, bus shelters, and mailboxes into play. From living on the East Coas,t I know that the accepted practice is to for anyone approaching the circle to yield to anyone in it, which seems obvious. That hasn’t played out here thus far and there’s no signage to support a rule, either. I haven’t seen anyone actually use a circle rather than just crossing it, but I fear it can’t go at all well.

Key Me! Have you encountered the mobile Bonn, Detroit, and Tokyo cathedrals that are apparently on the National Registry of Historic Places, because their bishops find it necessary to locate them at odd angles in more than one parking spot to protect them from any possibility of environmental insult? Don’t be shy, be worshipful; take away a paint chip or small piece of plastic or rubber as a relic to be treasured – as Tommy and Ray say: “It’s a – what? – CAR!”

Bright lights, big city. Nestor, listen up. That fella coming the other way isn’t trying to tell you’ve won the Lotto – just that you’ve managed to overlook that little blue icon in your instrument cluster that’s supposed to tell you you’re blinding him. Or, more likely, that you forgot to adjust your headlights after you jacked your truck up to nosebleed level to accommodate those new Desert Despoiler tires you bought to fight your way to 7-Eleven for a Big Gulp.

Express-O. “Slower Traffic Keep Right.” After the B-1 bomber, has there ever been a more egregious waste of tax funds than these freeway signs?

Next Week: Last part of stupid tire, wheel, and foot tricks.

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