Friday, April 18, 2008

Green, Green, The Light is Green

I have driven in many states across this great land of ours. There are certain characteristics among drivers that seem fairly unique for each geographical location. Atlantans drive very fast. It's amazing to me that you rarely read about 40-car pileups in that area. People in Raleigh, North Carolina have a tendency to pull up to a stop sign at 60 miles per hour and then slam on their brakes, leading those passing in front of them to wonder if they're actually going to stop or not. Bostonians will actually scrape the fenders of their cars to merge into a turn lane during rush hour, and those in the turn lane will allow it to happen before they'll let the person in. (A former manager of mine, on business trips to Boston, would wave his car rental agreement at someone trying to cut him off and yell, "I don't care!'; it always worked.) Vermonters seem to all drive 5 miles per hour below the speed limit, but it really doesn't take long to adopt the same sort of laid-back attitude they have and enjoy the scenery.

I now live in northern Virginia. Drivers here have a set of habits that, as far as I know, are unlike those anywhere else in the country. I was going to mention all of these, but the length of the post would become prohibitive so I'm going to focus on just one of these today. Virginia drivers, when you pull up to a red light and stop, please take note:

  1. The light is not going to stay red forever, it will eventually turn back to green.
  2. Technically, even though you're stopped and your foot is on the brake, you are still operating a vehicle.
  3. When the light does eventually turn green again, you should take your foot off the brake and press the accelerator.

Something comes over Virginia drivers when they stop at a red light. They seem to go to a happy place that they are loath to leave. Needless to say, this merits an SAQ rating of "low". Contrary to what these people seem to think, the time spent stopped at a red light is not a good time to peruse a map, dial a phone, apply makeup, rummage through a briefcase, floss, eat a hamburger, or finish up that Tolstoy novel that they started in the bathroom this morning.

On multiple-lane highways, there seems to be some belief among these drivers that they'll know when the light has changed because the vehicle next to them will start moving and they'll notice it. Here's a thought for you folks: You may not be the only one thinking that way. I drive home every day on a 4-lane road with many traffic lights. On more occasions than I can recall, I've been in a situation where both drivers at the light are deep in some meditative state and have no idea when the light changes. Horns honk, and the drivers are inevitably surprised to find that the light is green. I have to wonder if these same people are surprised every morning when the sun comes up.

It's difficult to drive very far in this area without coming across a parking lot or a low-traffic side street. Please, if you have a nail-filing emergency, you need to clean that splotch off your glasses that's been there since you got in the car but you somehow just noticed, your hair has just got to be combed right now, you feel a seizure coming on, somebody on the sidewalk waves something shiny, whatever, pull over to take care of it.

Drivers with a higher SAQ will appreciate you for it.

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