Thursday, February 1, 2007

On driving in an uncivil society:

Every time you get in your car, you take your life in your hands. Not because of all the giant SUVs on the road-- well at least that’s not the primary reason. It’s because people either don’t remember what the driver’s manual says or they just don’t care to follow the rules. In Boston, at least, we are literally at the point of automotive anarchy. It is so common for people to run red lights in this town, that I don’t think the police even notice anymore. I have had to develop the habit of pausing to look both ways before I proceed into an intersection when I’ve got the green light. When I stop during a yellow because I know it is about to turn red, the guy behind me honks and makes gestures in my rearview mirror. (As if it’s not bad enough having a toddler in the backseat incessantly saying, “Mama go?”)

The yield sign has similarly lost all meaning. I was on Memorial Drive the other day and a guy merging on almost hit me. He seemed to expect me to slow down for him. I beeped and gave him a dirty look but I’m sure it was lost on him since he apparently didn’t know he was supposed to yield to me! I yielded getting onto the Jamaicaway recently (like the sign said) and the woman behind me was so busy not yielding that she actually hit me!

One place you can be pretty sure people around here aren’t going to yield is when they’re entering a rotary. But-- oh yeah!-- that’s the law! I think they think there’s no light so they shouldn’t have to stop. Or maybe they know vehicles on the rotary have the right of way, but they figure if they’re aggressive enough, people on the circle will give way and they’ll get where they’re going 30 seconds sooner. Or maybe they’re all from Turkey where the law is that people on the rotary have to yield. In Turkey they have an apt expression which translates loosely as: “How’d you wait in your mother’s belly for nine months?” You’d think they have heard it.

Another area of great confusion is the right on red. You can do this only when there is no sign prohibiting it and only after stopping first. But be prepared, because if you do stop first, a chorus of horns will erupt, egging you on. And those intersections with a separate lane and light for the right? Sorry, no right on red at all. Brookline– the strict traffic rules capital of Massachusetts– has signs that explicitly state both of these laws but I still see people breaking them all the time.

And how about the ubiquitous practice of pulling out onto the road even though there is traffic in the lane you want to enter? You don't want to wait for both lanes to clear, so you sit there in the middle of the road, blocking traffic in the other lane and all those people have to wait. Likewise pulling into an intersection when you aren’t sure you can get through it by the time the light changes just creates gridlock. It’s inconsiderate. It breaks the rules of the road, and it makes other people mad and impatient and more willing to break the rules...

I know what this is all about Bostonians and I feel your pain. I know it’s hard to get anywhere fast in this city, but society creates these rules for a reason: for safety and to ease the flow of traffic. Disregarding them will only lead to– has led to– chaos, accidents, gridlock and road rage.

We could all stand to review the Massachusetts Driver's Manual periodically. To do it now, click on the link below.

Mass. Driver's Manual, Chapter 4 (Signs)


Anonymous said...

I totally agree. Especially the "Boston left" turn just drives me crazy. For those who don't know, if you want to turn left on a two way street, it is illegal to block the lane going right until the lane going left opens up, which is otherwise called "Boston left"; or, waiting on the red light for turning left, and the moment the light turns green getting into the intersection before the cars passing straight, which is another form of "Boston left". You may be surprised but if you are turning left on an intersection, you have to yield. That is the law!

Matthew said...

The move makes absolute sense. Oncoming traffic waits an extra 2 seconds, but the traffic behind the person making the left does not have to wait. Its a great move and I practice it ALL of the time. Except now I live in the uncivilized mid-west and nobody does it. C'est la vie.