2004-12-01

Social Disease - Stop Signs

I have noticed that driving styles seem to change depending on the area of the country. I have noticed some trates in certain area. In New York, people are very likey to rush by in the right lane to cut you off at a squeeze - and this often backs up traffic. In New Jersey, many people like to run through stop signs. In Florida, they like to cut back very close in front of you after passing on the left - much closer than safe following distance, so you either have to slow down or wind up tailgating the person in front for more than few seconds. I hate driving in Florida.

When I moved to Colorado 4 years ago, I noticed differences in the average driving style. You will see people move out of a merge lane way ahead of the merge - even when there is bad traffic - this lets traffic keept moving at a better pace than places where people rush to cut in front, stalling the merge. I noticed here that people would almost always come to a full stop at a stop sign. People also seemed to tailgate more - especially at high speeds in the left lane on the highway. But the people here are very good about stopping for pedestrians. It took me a lot to get used to how polite drivers are to pedestrians when I was walking. But it was very easy for me to take on the other habits, except the tailgating. Oh, I know I'll talegate on rare occasions, but most of the time I try to keep plenty of distance to the car in front of me. But driving here in Colorado is much easier and more pleasurable than back East.

But I've noticed what I call a social disease. It seems to have infected the average drivers in Colorado and seems to be spreading. In the last year, I've noticed more and more people running through stop signs. Some of the worst are parents rushing their kids to school. Not only are they endangering their kids, and endangering other kids both walking and in other cars, but they are teaching their kids it is okay to break they law.

At first I noticed it was just people not quite stopping at stop signs. A 'rolling stop' I've heard it called. It was only teens I saw barely slowing down at stop signs. But in the last year, more and more people seem to need to roll through stop signs. I'm talking about people who slow down just enough to stop if they have to, but will drive right through without stopping if the way is clear enough. And enough seems to be by their own interpretations, not what I would call safe. If I have to slow down a lot because you rolled through a stop sign right in front of me, you cut me off - and that is seriously not safe. That is asking to be hit.

I see more and more people coming up to stop sign at a clip that looks like they will drive right through. This means there is no safty margin if there is an unusual situation. This used to be the average back in New Jersey. To protect myself, I adopted a drving habit of not trusting anyone who looks like they might roll through a stop sign. So if someone was approaching a stop sign quickly enough that made me think they might roll through and perhaps even hit me if they didn't stop at the last second, I would slow down. I try to slow down just enough that I would not let them into traffic.

This meant that instead of saving maybe 2 seconds on thier drive by running the stop sign, I would hold them up extra seconds. Because if they looked like they were planning to stop at the stop sign, I would be going normal speed, and they would be able to enter traffic sooner. So not only do I protect myself, but I also penalize the person for using up any safety factor at the stop sign. But considering how many accidents occur at stop signs, and how it is possible for a person to miss seeing a stop sign, what else can you do but make sure you can stop for them?

I've realized that I almost never had to be warey of people looking like they would run stop signs in Colorado. But in the last 6 months, I've caught myself having to do it more and more. I don't like it. It seems like an infection, a social disease, that is taking over the average driver here. I am very disappointed to see it happening so much.

What causes this kind of change in driving style, like an infection?
I know we get a lot of people moving to Colorado all the time. Between all the military and the high tech ebb and flow, we get a very high turnover. Being a native of Colorado puts you in a small minority - maybe 10%. Some people even consider living in Colorado more than 5 years making you a long-timer. But with all these people moving into Colorado, we get a bunch from areas of other driving habits. Most people seem to adapt quickly to their new area. But there are some who still drive like where they come from - like running stop signs.

So these people run stop signs. They get ahead of other people, and maybe even make the light you should have. So these other people feel both competitive - they want to be in front, and they see these people getting away with it - no traffic ticket. So more people try a rolling stop. Next thing you know, they are running stop signs too. And the more people see this, the habit seems to spread. That is my theory.

Why did people respect stop signs more in the past? Were the police very agressive in the past? Was the area just that much slower and pastoral that nobody was in a rush, so stopping was easy? Some combination? Is there some other factor or factors? Did we get a huge batch of mean bosses that are being really strict about getting to work on time?

I'm not positive about the causes, but you can see I have some ideas. But other than being safe, and penalizing non-stoppers by slowing down and forcing them to come to a full stop, I'm not sure what can be done about this spreading sickness.

Should I complain to the police? At best, that would mean lots of people getting tickets. And that is never fun. I wouldn't wish that on people, unless there was no other way to get them to be sfaer at stop signs. I doubt adding the word 'please' to the stop signs would help. Maybe I should send a note to the religious groups in town - give them some useful fodder for a sermon. :) Write a note to the newspaper? Start a rumor that the police are getting really nasty on running stop signs?

I think getting the police to crack down more on running stop signs is the only thing that might slow the spread a little. But I don't think it will reverse the spread.

How do you vaccinate society from a bad idea that is spreading?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I could type my thoughts on peoples driving for hours, but I won't. I will mention the one thing I see all of the time here in COS. People making right turns from the left lane...yes, from the left lane! And vice versa. It makes me insane. I see this once a week here.

Michelle
www.girlandgeek.com