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?


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.