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Rolling Right and Seeing Red

These are NOT Suggestions!

I am, at heart, an investigative journalist. Like a dog on a bone, when I find a subject to investigate, I am relentless and will not stop until all the marrow has been extracted and the only thing left is a dry, dull, tasteless shell. I recently embarked on a new investigation upon discovering strange signs and signals everywhere I traveled throughout our beautiful South County. These signs and signals were everywhere. Could it be frequency Illusion– That phenomenon where you notice a thing, then you begin to see that thing everywhere—or, was I losing my mind? I also noticed that a large percentage of people would heed these signs and signals, stopping their cars on a dime, and acting in strange ways whenever they encountered them. For example, cars would line up and then move just a few feet forward at a time, taking turns accelerating after stopping their cars completely. Some people would smile at a car opposite them in an intersection and wave at the other car, allowing them to accelerate and move through the intersection before them. It seemed very kind and civil. At the signals, I noticed people would stop their cars and not move at all until the signal changed colors. Strange.

  Then I observed a different group of people who behaved very differently. In fact, they acted completely opposite to the larger group. These people paid no attention to these signs and signals at all. They would move through intersections unrestricted and in complete freedom, with no interest in slowing down, regardless of the color of the signal. At the intersections where the strange signs were placed, these people had no interest in stopping nor in allowing another person to go first. In fact, they would rarely stop, slow down, or pay any heed to other people in cars, on bikes, or on foot. Strange.

With all these observations, I had to dive deeper. What I found was mind blowing. After speaking to local officials, engineers, traffic specialists, and driving instructors, I learned that these strange signals were called “traffic signals.” Apparently, and as corroborated by the officials I interviewed—many who spoke only on condition of anonymity—these traffic signals are designed to keep people in cars, on bikes, or on foot, safe. Strange.

It appears that these professionals understood that when people operate cars without regard for signals or signs, chaos happens. I also learned that these signals and signs are so important that there are laws on the books that specify how people in cars are to behave when these signs and signals exist. That was illuminating because in my travels over the past couple years, I have not observed any legal consequences for any people in cars who don’t adhere to the laws about these signs and signals on a local level. So why bother to obey? And, after all, shouldn’t people just know to stay out of the way of those who don’t obey the law?

Our dear friend and neighbor lost her life a few years ago because she just happened to be in the crosswalk when a person in a car didn’t obey the law. She was on her way to church on a Monday to volunteer. Nobody told her that she should get out of the way of people in cars who don’t obey the law.

About five years ago I was hit by a drunk person who didn’t like to obey the traffic signal laws among others. It was her second time driving impaired and running into things, and I was sent to the hospital on a board. Nobody told me to stay out of her way, not even my closest friends or family. Many years before that, when I was a mere twenty-something, I got in the way of another person in a car who didn’t obey the traffic signal laws and found myself just a half-step away from seeing the light (not a traffic signal. The other light.)

As I walked in the crosswalk, this person sped through a left turn with no regard for signals, other people, laws, or anything other than their own destination. All I saw was a flash pass in front of me as my hand hit the driver’s door mid swing. I stopped in the middle of the lane, looked at the flash as it sped down the road, and noticed people in cars on every side of me with their mouths wide open as though they’d just witnessed something unbelievable.

Just a year ago, I was one of those people in a car at a traffic signal—signs to be specific—when I noticed another person in a car approaching the intersection. I had a hunch he wasn’t going to obey the traffic signal laws. A little boy was walking in the same direction as the approaching car. As the car reached the intersection, the boy stepped off the curb and into the crosswalk. I shouted at the kid to get back on the sidewalk. He almost started to cry. Just then, the car rounded the turn with no regard for the sign, the child, or anyone else. The boy and I looked at each other as though we’d just witnessed something unbelievable.

“Sorry for shouting,” I told the little guy. He nodded as if to say, “no problem, that was close!”

“Please look both ways and always pause if cars are nearby before walking into the street.” I basically told him to stay out of the way of people in cars who disobey traffic signal laws.

With school back in session, and even when it’s out, the people in cars who don’t obey the traffic laws really should start. Perhaps we need more consequences for “running reds” and “rolling rights.” I’ll throw the people who speed through neighborhood streets in the mix too. Unless you have a flashing light and siren, your destination is not nearly as important as injuring another person, or worse—killing them.

At the end of my investigation, I learned that the traffic signals have specific names: stop signs and red lights. What I also learned is that they are not put in place to purposely annoy people in cars or make them late. They are there to keep people—in cars, on bikes, or on foot—safe. And most importantly, stop signs and red lights are not suggestions. Not even close. My conclusion is that not everyone drives with care or compassion for others, so those that do should always be aware of them. We should remind pedestrians that some people in cars consider their destination more important than others, and to remain vigilant. However, the most important conclusion is that only harsher consequences for people in cars who disobey the laws will ever reduce the level of chaos we all are forced to live with. We should ticket, fine, and suspend licenses when necessary, as if our lives, and the lives of those we love, depend on it.

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