It’s all Optional
By Patrick F. Cannon
There’s an intersection at the end of my block with three-way stop signs (my street is one way). In the six years or so that I’ve lived here, I can only recall a handful of times when a vehicle actually came to a full top before proceeding on its way. Shall we be honest? Almost no one comes to a full stop unless there’s another vehicle proceeding through the intersection. I believe I’m an expert on the “full hesitation” instead of a lawful full stop.
While I have no way of actually proving it, it seems to me – on the evidence of my eyes – that the number of drivers who don’t even hesitate at stop signs is increasing. And not only stop signs; I’ve seen many drivers just slow down at red lights, then go through them with impunity. This impatience extends to speed. On expressways, few drivers take speed limits seriously, including me. But while I generally exceed the limit by 5 or 10 miles and hour, I have often been passed by drivers – if traffic permits – going 20 or 30 miles an hour (or more) above the posted limit. I’ve even seen two cars that seem to be racing each other through traffic (maybe with drawn guns?).
Passing on two-lane roads and streets is permitted if the center line is broken, but I have been passed many times when there is a solid yellow line, which means no passing. Just the other day, I was doing 35 in a 30 mile per hour zone on a residential street with a solid yellow line. I was passed by a car doing at least 50; there was a stop sign at the end of the block which was also ignored.
Last year, 42,915 people died in traffic accidents, a 10.5 percent increase over the year before. A popular theory says that it’s all connected to Covid restrictions. Although things have eased a bit, being forced to wear a mask in public, stay away from the corner bar, and generally hunker down has frustrated folks so much that they expressed their freedom in the one place they could – behind the wheel of their cars. I may be forced to wear a mask at the supermarket, but by God I can at least be free to ignore the law on the highways and byways of our great country!
In an effort to overcomplicate matters, I offer some alternate reasons for the lawlessness and carnage. One involves what I would call the “Trump effect.” This posits that his followers emulate their hero by having a total disregard for truth, justice and the American way. One can choose for oneself which laws to obey, including those pesky stop signs and speed limits. Countering this is the argument that liberals and progressives have overthrown accepted morality, so that breaking traffic laws with impunity follows logically from permitting same sex marriages, abortion and gender fluidity.
One that appeals to me – I’m a political independent – is simply that vehicle performance has exceeded the ability of most drivers to control it. When I was a lad reading car magazines, if a car could make it from zero to 60 in 12 seconds or less, it was considered pretty racy. My current car, a four-door sedan, can get there in half the time. And it’s not unusual for some, even hulking SUVs, to manage 60 in 5 seconds or less. Can you even imagine trying to control a machine like the Bugatti Veyron, which can get there in 2.4 seconds? And reach a top speed of 254 miles per hour? Even at 100 MPH on an expressway, how many drivers can really react properly to the unforeseen?
Then there’s a particular favorite of mine (and many an old crank like me). It speculates that younger generations have been told so often that they are unique and wonderful – and even win awards for being average – that they feel entitled to do whatever they damn well please, regardless of how it might affect others. Of course, it may be a combination of all of the above. In any event, if you’re a pedestrian, you would be well advised to take great care in crossing at intersections with stop signs. Hit and runs are on the increase too.
Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon