Thursday, February 19, 2009

I thought that's what the yellow light was for?

I guess I'm starting to get old. It really is starting to fry my chops when I see the utter silliness that the various governments and especially legislatures engage in.

Most recently, it was Cook County. They started installing those "county highway 1234" signs on their roadways. Makes sense- if there's a problem with a road, you'll know who to call. Then people started crying that it was "confusing". How is that? Every other county does it. The roads didn't change locations, Pulaski is still Pulaski. There's just a small sign on a few lightpoles that say that it's a county road instead of a city or state road. The same sort of signs have been there for years! Do I suddenly forget where I'm going because there's an Illinois 64 sign on North avenue? OMG, I *was* on 95th street, and I don't think I made any turns, but now the sign says I'm on 12 AND 20? Am I going in two directions at once??! So the county quit putting them up. Now wait a minute. If it was in the public interest to start putting them up in the first place, how does that change because some people don't like it? Your job is to do what needs to be done, even if some people don't like it. How are we going to make any progress if you can't have the fortitude to explain why a decision is right or wrong, in spite of the complaining?

Now this lunacy. Good job reinventing the wheel, idiots! We already have a perfectly good solution to this problem. It's been around for a few years now, most people have probably even seen it in action. The yellow light. It goes on to alert drivers that the signal is about to turn red, and that they shouldn't enter the intersection. If people are complaining that they are getting nabbed by the red light cameras, one of two things is going on:

1- They are just griping- they tried to run a yellow and got caught.
2- The yellow lights aren't timed properly.

I looked it up once, when I got nabbed by a red light camera myself. Too lazy to look it up now, but the DOT standards are basically this: you take the speed limit, the length of the intersection, the time it takes to react, the time it takes for a vehicle to stop at the speed limit, and you mix that all together so that the light is on long enough for the following to be possible. If a car is approaching an intersection and the driver sees the yellow light go on, the driver has enough time to make the decision whether he has enough time/room to stop or not. If he does, he applies the brakes and stops before the red light comes on. If he doesn't, he continues through the intersection safe in the knowledge that the red light will not come on until he has safely cleared the intersection.

Now, I remember when I got the red light ticket. I was driving, possibly exceeding the speed limit slightly, and I saw the yellow light. I remember deciding that I was in a hurry and that it was "close enough". I'm generally a good driver, and as a rule, don't blow red lights, but I do remember that I was cutting it close. Later, when I was watching the video of my infraction, there was probably a good second from when the light went from yellow to red until my car actually entered the intersection.

Now, I'm not complaining. The yellow light probably was within specifications, and I probably made a bad decision. But if there is a public safety issue where drivers feel like they don't have enough notice to stop safely, the prudent solution is to use the system that's already in place, and add a second or two to the yellow light. It would hurt no one, would tend to increase safety, would give those who blow red lights no excuse for their actions, and wouldn't be a ridiculous boondoggle installing a bunch of new equipment at every damned stoplight in the city.

It seems like a win-win situation. Shouldn't the role of government be to make fair laws, give the citizens all reasonable opportunity to be able to follow those laws, and then to enforce those laws ruthlessly? If we find ourselves in a situation where we are needing to make exceptions for certain infractions, or changing reality to reflect the laws, the law needs to be changed. The laws need to be written in such a way that no exceptions are necessary. The exceptions are *in* the law. If the situation at hand contains an exception, then the person is not guilty. It's not good justice to have situations where laws are fuzzy and enforcement is fuzzy, and one's guilt or innocence depends on chance. Bring on the automated traffic enforcement! But temper it with sane, sober laws that aren't up to interpretation or that aren't tailored to "catch" people at the margins, but instead tailored toward encouraging legal and safe behavior. Adding a couple of seconds to yellow lights does just this- it adds a little slack to the marginal cases, and makes darn sure that when someone is caught, they are for sure guilty of making a bad decision and have no excuse for their behavior.

Not only is this more just, it would tend to create more respect for the law. People, at least somewhat reasonable ones, will tend to see that the laws are a bright line of behavior that's clearly unacceptable, instead of how so many see it now, as a sort of fuzzy line that one crosses only within their tolerance for chance.


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