Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Worst Roads in America & Why

One of my pet peeves is driving.
I like being able to do it. In fact, I just got a new car after the expiration of my lease. A zippy new Mazda 3 that I do not like as much as my 2007 version. The changes are very cosmetic and don't improve anything really. It’s easy in comparison to relying on public transportation, more so for return trips when it can take you an hour plus to get home instead of ten minutes coming from NYC but I still don't like doing it.

Shine has a list of the 7 Worst Roads in America. Not surprisingly, most of them are in the Northeast but I assume they didn’t want to show too much favoritism to the NY Metropolitan Area because I’ve driven on almost all of these roads and none of them touch the shit storm standing right outside my door. I have been on most of these and they are pretty bad but they should probably add in every road in north Jersey as well, not just I-95. Try driving on NJ RTE 17 at 6 PM on a Friday!

I truly believe that I live in one of the worst areas in the world to drive at the crux of basically 4 of the busiest roads in America; Route 17 in NJ (also known as the Northeast's fast food haven which literally 12 steps from my house there is a Popeye's Next to an Arby's across the street from a Burger King next to a Wendy's, down the road from a Cici's, Panera Bread, Baja Fresh, Subway, Five Guys, Saladworks all w and don't forget the highway plugging of the new Sonic plus a Dunkin' Donuts every half mile), there is Route 3 which leads one way into 495/the Lincoln Tunnel and the other way funnels into Route 46 (another fast food haven).

Besides this, the prospect of the my soon to be 17 year old texting fiend of a teenage sister hitting the the roads is horrifying. It should be horrifying to everyone. US News & World Reports issued Best States for Teen Drivers,
while including an article that gives some statistics on just how scary it is every teenager gets a license and why they continue to crack down with additional rules to curb their driving. The amount of distractions that the average person has can only be exponentially a problem if they are learning how to drive.

Although I’d argue there are many long licensed drivers that may have more issues that teenagers from my own personal highway encounters. Street signs have become suggestions. Yields mean nothing. Stop signs are the new yields, barely. Just right outside my house last night, someone made a left through a stop sign hitting a car. This absence of tact in driving, I believe, is just part of a bigger problem of people believing in their own self-importance. Everyone in a car believes that it is their right to go faster.

Personally, I believe that every person that has a major traffic violation should be required to take a class or better yet, to re-earn the privilege that they have taken advantage. Stiffer enforcement of traffic laws, not just minor stuff like a speeding ticket for 6 miles over a ridiculous speed limit in a small town that purposefully changes the limit every quarter mile so you can get caught in a speed trap coming down a hill. I'm talking about people that fly through stop signs, red lights, merge without signaling or ever turn without signaling. A signal is not a recommendation. It's a must in declaring what your intent is so that all that surround you and are involved in your immediate driving ecosystem know what to do.

They have to put delays on opposite directions going green because they know people will fly through them anyway. Doesn’t a sign mean anything to anyone anymore? When you are driving, you are not special unless you are an ambulance or a cop. The roads are one place we are all the same. Our cars may wildly differ in price and gas mileage but everyone has the same right to be respected on the roads which brings me to the book that really destroyed my will to drive, Tom Vanderbilt’s amazing book Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do. This is a book I believe everyone who drives a car should have to read.

A main thread in Vanderbilt's book is that drivers forget there are humans in the cars in front of them. Think and remember the last time you were cut off in a lane. A car just slid over in front of you missing your front bumper by four inches and then sped away. What did you do? Curse out the car? Press the gas pedal and chase after it, trying to stare down the driver from the side? Scream out some racial epithets? The absence of eye contact in these cases often lead to overlooking the fact that there is a fallible human in front of you. Someone who makes mistakes just like you. Don't get me wrong, there are some ruthless, uncaring drivers out there bound to cause or be involved in some huge accidents.

Remembering that you wield the power of life and death in your hands every time you step behind the wheel of not just yourself and your passengers but every car on the road is something you should contemplate before each time you step in a car. That moment of contemplation alone will make you a better driver. Think about all the times you rushed into a car, pulled quickly out of your driveway, not looking, a were seconds away from sideswiping an oncoming motorist from a blindspot. Don't even get me started on the horrors of blindspots.

Which brings me to rubbernecking delays? If you want to traffic to pick up speed stop turning your head to look at the scene of someone's demise. It seems hardwired into the human brain that if there is something bad going on we should look. If there is an emergency and you should be involved, you should be looking. otherwise, keep your eyes on the road. Don't excuse your actions by saying that you just want to see or that you want to show compassion through mental waves through your window. You are joining the herd, exacerbating the situation, and picking up a story to tell your friend's on the phone, possibly hoping in the deep recesses of your mind of seeing something catastrophic. Wait till you get home and look it up on local news if you want but please don't be a rubbernecker.

I may sound like I'm on my high horse as I'm as guilty of certain transgressions as the next but I attribute it with keeping up with the Joneses especially in the streets of Manhattan. There is a separate set of rules that govern each driving space but if we cracked down on these issues, much tragedy could be avoided. These are lessons that can only be learned through experience which is why teenage drivers are provisionally licensed. I don't have the answer but I do know that the worse our driving gets, the increasing safety issue it will become in the future. I'm not saying quit your car and start hopping on buses and trains but I can tell you that the likelihood of you being in a serious life threatening situation decreases infinitely when you are not driving yourself on the road.

Related links:

Traffic Collision (Wikipedia)
FARS (Fatal Analysis Reporting System) Encyclopedia

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