It is time for another edition of Road Rants where, after going on a road trip where I have time to think of these things, I note the driving practices I see that annoy me and make suggestions for improvement. The previous rants were here, here, and here.
Turning on lights
On the highway several times I came across a sign saying that there was construction ahead and to turn on the headlights. In each case there were about six or seven cars ahead of me, not one of whom bothered to turn on their lights. On the other hand, when there was a sign saying that we were about to enter a tunnel and to turn on the lights, everyone did so, though some only after entering the tunnel.
Why is this? I suspect that most people do not realize that turning on the lights serves two purposes. It helps you see better but it also helps others see you better. Most people only think about the first. As long as they can see without turning on their lights (which is the case in daytime), they see no point in turning on their lights. It does not occur to them that it helps the construction workers on the road see cars earlier and better and take evasive action if necessary.
This reluctance to turn on headlights is annoying and dangerous when driving in heavy rain or snow where the visibility is poor. Turning on your headlights doesn’t enable you to see further, so some drivers don’t turn them on, not realizing that by keeping them off, they become largely invisible to others on the road. Very often you will find cars suddenly emerge from the gloom without warning because they did not have their lights on. I wish Ohio would enact and enforce a law that some states have that says that when your wipers are on, your lights must also be on.
Hogging the passing lane
Another practice that puzzles me is that of those drivers who get onto the passing lane of the highway and stay there. Apart from the fact that it is against the law, what are they thinking? People who do that in moderate levels of traffic can block traffic behind them for quite a distance. Surely they must notice that other drivers drop back into the slow lane after passing? Surely they must wonder why they do that? Or are they so oblivious to others that they think that as long as they are going close to the speed limit, it does not matter which lane they are in? I used to think that the people who did this were the stereotypical old geezers but on my last trip I noticed that the culprits were middle-aged and even young drivers.
Recently cities and states have been increasing the use of cameras to detect people who go through red lights or speed in built up areas or construction zones. This has generated a remarkable level of angry opposition with citizen petitions seeking to outlaw the practice.
I am a little puzzled by this reaction. While I am usually concerned by invasions of privacy, this does not seem to me to be such a violation. It seeks to deter dangerous driving practices and nab those who do so without the wastefulness of having police idling for hours in hidden spots, when they could be doing far more useful things like preventing and solving more serious crimes. So what is the problem with these cameras? Do people want the freedom to drive dangerously? It is true that some communities are using these devices as a means for increasing revenue but that does not seem to me to be a disqualifying factor.
Highway merging (again!)
Some time ago, I suggested that when the number of lanes is reduced on a highway (which usually creates a bottleneck), that it was most efficient if traffic in both lanes went up to the merge point, the so-called ‘late merge’ policy, rather than merging much earlier which is what traffic etiquette seems to require.
In response to other points of view, I modified that stance to say that perhaps the most efficient way to merge was if both lanes could maintain speed while doing so, which suggested an ‘early merge’ policy, before traffic congestion built up enough to prevent merging while maintaining speed.
It now turns out (thanks to a subsequent comment on the first post by Chandra, who is both a traffic engineer and an old school friend of mine who stumbled on my post while doing some research on this topic) that a study finds that during congested times, the late merge is best after all, while at other times the regular merge rules should be followed.
A new book Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt cites other research that supports the late merging policy.
Among Vanderbilt’s findings is the discovery that “late merging” may actually cause traffic to move more quickly, contrary to popular belief. When a sign warns that the lane will end in a given distance, standard driving etiquette causes many to move over as promptly as possible. However, if everyone were to merge at a single point when the lane ends, the road would get maximal usage and lane changes would become more orderly. The result would be traffic that moves 15% faster than current behavior allows.
“If people were told exactly to not leave the lane that was closing until the very point it actually did close, and then we did a nice alternating merge — it would be faster,” says Vanderbilt. “Another benefit would be the queue of vehicles stretching back from the construction site would be smaller.”
More traffic circles please!
Vanderbilt’s book also supports my feeling, based on my driving experience in Australia and New Zealand where traffic circles (or ’roundabouts’) are ubiquitous, that we should have more traffic circles here.
Vanderbilt also argues that round-abouts may be safer than traditional stoplight intersections. Though traffic circles may seem confusing, they have fewer “conflict points,” places where cars can physically hit an object or person. Intersections have 32 of these conflict points, where round-abouts only have 16. The round-about is particularly safe because it completely eliminates the left-turn, one of the most dangerous driving maneuvers.
POST SCRIPT: Common food myths
Following up on my recent series on food, I was sent this interesting article on common food myths (Thanks to Ashali).