Dear Massachusetts State Troopers

September 23, 2009

Tuesday evening, Sept 22, 10:05 pm: What the hell?  Eastbound on the MassPike between Framingham and Newton, a car appeared in the passing lane traveling at a phenomenal speed.  90?  100?  120?  Higher?  My car isn’t equipped with a radar to measure such data.

Oh, by the way, it was a state trooper. No lights, no siren.  Just breakneck speed.

It flew by, and then, surprisingly, seemed to slow down several hundred yards ahead.  I was doing about 70 in a 65 mph zone, so as Boston drivers go I was barely moving, but pretty soon I caught up to the vehicle, because it had slowed down to a rate far below the speed limit.  40?  Again, no way to tell.  But it was at that point, when I passed it, that it was traveling at a dangerously SLOW speed.

Then? It sped up again to light speed and flashed away, disappearing in moments.  No flashing lights, no siren, nothing to warn citizens of a dangerously risky situation.

What was going on?  Was a trooper — a Bostonian in the habit of driving way too fast since a teenager — having too much fun?  Was he or she practicing high speed chase maneuvers? Whatever the purpose, this was extremely unsafe and unprofessional behavior.


MassPike Morass

September 22, 2009

Thursday, Sept 17: why did it take me THREE HOURS to drive from Framingham to East Boston?  It is about 32 miles, and usually takes about 40-45 minutes.  Just the 12-mile section alone of Rte 90 between Framingham and the toll plaza at Rte 95/128 took TWO (2) HOURS.

I left my office at Framingham State College at 4:30 and finally arrived at home at 7:30 pm.  It would have felt good to have killed someone, except that I was far too tired.  Now, who can I blame?…


Turn Signals 101

January 21, 2009

Hello Boston!

That funny little metal rod sticking out of the left of your steering wheel — you don’t know what that is, do you?  It’s called a “turn signal”.

Why do Boston drivers refuse to use it?  Is it a sign of weakneturn-signal-intross?  A display of femininity in a macho traffic world?  Why wouldn’t you use a tool that is designed to increase the safety of others, as well as your own?

DUH.

Drivers along the MassPike and elsewhere flit back and forth between lanes, as if they were the only ones on the road.  YOU’RE NOT.  There are plenty of us, and your refusal to use the turn signal, whether due to ignorance or your own lack of character (let’s just say you’re an asshole and be done with it) increases the chances of accidents.  Turn signals indicate to others your desire and your intention to change lanes, and that allows the rest of us to prepare, and to act accordingly.

Don’t you see that it is important to disseminate information while driving at high speed?  One of the key assertions of Tom Vanderbilt in his book “Traffic” is that there are insufficient means for feedback on the road.  Wouldn’t you want as much road safety information as possible when traveling at 70+ mph?  Wouldn’t you want others around you to know your intentions, or do you want your high speed movements to be a total surprise to everyone else?  Surprise is a bad thing when fractions of a second can mean the difference between a fatal accident and a smooth lane change.  As for other kinds of highway feedback, honking a horn communicates little except displeasure, unless it’s an emergency.  Hand gestures can mean anything, IF they are seen at all.  A turn signal is an easy-to-see indicator of intent, and requires only the merest flick of a finger.

Oh wait, of course you couldn’t spare that finger for a turn signal flick — you’re using those fingers to talk on your cell phones.   Or maybe you are using those digits for ingesting a breakfast burrito.  I understand: the effort to turn on a turn signal is simply too much for you.

If we are to take Barack Obama’s words about personal responsibility seriously, then perhaps we could add to those public services tasks the act of using a turn signal.

C’mon, Boston!  Try a little harder to be better, safer drivers.  Slow down a little, allow more room in front of you, and use your turn signals!


Snow and Loathing in Boston

January 18, 2009

It snowed again last night, and it’s still snowing now at 10 am.  Boston drivers shrug off snow like a duck does a cold beer.  Traffic moves along, although not quite at Bostonian velocities.

Bostonians drive very fast, and very aggressively.  An old friend on the west coast, who has been everywhere and driven a car while there, tells me that only Paris has more aggressive drivers.  Why is this?  Why do Massachusetts genes compel their owners to mash down the accelerator pedal harder than anyone else, to drive closer to the car in front of them than good sense or physics would suggest, to regard the use of turn signals with contempt, and to change lanes like a toddler with attention deficit disorder?

One of the most fascinating aspects of Massachusetts drivers is this apparent sense that they have an inalienable right to drive as fast as they want.  Really.   While other parts of the country will go within 5-10 mph of the speed limit, locals will routinely do well over 75-80 in a 55 mph zone.  And as I have noted elsewhere, Boston drivers don’t want to be behind you; they want to be in front of you.  They hate not being able to go faster, and they loathe you for preventing them from exercising the God-given birthright to drive faster than the law permits.  Maybe that provides a clue.  Maybe the New England brain still believes that it’s the 17th or 18th century, and prevailing state mottos like “live free or die” and “by the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty” still influence thinking processes.

If these vehicular libertarians espouse a philosophy of “drive free or die” or “by the BMW X5 we seek peace”, what does that mean for the rest of us who must share the Massachusetts highways?  Should we shed our high quality cars for disposable transportation such as a Plymouth K-car or Ford Pinto?  Should we envelop our ride of choice in a safety belt of old tires, held in place with duct tape?  Surely we must protect ourselves from these zealous, steel-wrapped freedom fighters.  Isn’t self protection a sort of independence?

Too bad these ideological battles are fought on roads covered with snow, rather than the ideal setting of a HDTV-ready demolition derby.  The latter would have more crowd appeal, since there would be more blood, and red looks best on a big screen.  This author prefers calm over frenzy when behind the wheel, and when  looking through the small screen of my windshield.  And, I would feel more relaxed if I could see Boston drivers slowing down, and allowing more room between their cars and those vehicles in front of them.  We’ll all live longer that way.


Math, Physics and Driving

January 14, 2009

Drive around Boston for a few months, and you’ll soon see that driving test standards have fallen precipitously.  Like an Aston Martin off a cliff.  Clearly anyone can get a driver’s license these days.
You can be at the bottom of your high school class, have flunked every math and physics class you’ve ever had, and still you are allowed to pilot a two-ton hunk of steel at 70 mph across our nation.  Oh, good.  If you have no idea how your car works, if it is a magical contraption to you, one that mysteriously makes noise and goes from A to B because you twisted the ignition key and pushed a foot pedal, you should not be driving; you should be walking.  Or taking public transport.
Without even a modest grounding in math and science — and that math résumé should include some probability and statistics – drivers don’t have the necessary analytical tools to understand the important parts of the car: what is happening under the hood; how brakes work; what tires can do and not do.  Further, without math and science skills, they can’t understand what is going on around the car being driven.  Why else would so many Bostonians drive so close to the cars in front of them, while going at high speed?
Stop and think about this.  Since Henry Ford told Americans to be happy with a black car, we have been told to put a safe distance between our car and the one in front of us.  The rule of thumb says to allow one car length for every ten miles an hour of speed.  Why is that?  It’s to provide a buffer zone in case we need to slow down, stop or change direction.  Things happen very quickly, in fractions of a second, when traveling at 70 mph.  Wouldn’t you rather have a margin of safety, for you, and for your passengers?
If you are one of the many people I have seen, driving just a few feet behind the vehicle in front of you, you must think that you are a superhuman, with superfast reflexes, and your car has brakes and tires so good that they are above the laws of physics.
You people are idiots, and we can only hope that the Darwin Effect removes you from the population before you hurt innocent drivers.
Back off a little, Boston drivers.  Give the car in front of you a little room, and live a little longer.