Road Warriors

In a story on red light cameras, the New York Times comments on an unintended consequence of the devices - an increase in rear end collisions. The story opens with the story of a Baltimore motorist who slammed on her brakes to stop at a yellow light (she knew the intersection had a camera) and was rear-ended.

Not to dismiss the problem, but let's keep in mind what the root of the problem is: drivers who do not take lights seriously. When I learned to drive, the rules for lights were pretty clear: when a light turns yellow, you stop if you can. It doesn't mean "go through till it's red," it means "stop," and gives you an interval in which you can still pass through if it is not possible to stop.

Here in Houston, where red light cameras are being debated, one of the complaints has been that if you enter an intersection with a yellow light and don't get out before it's red, you'll get a ticket. Apparently this complaint is raised because that would be unfair. No, that would be the law.

Even if all of the collisions caused by people running red lights were replaced by people rear-ending each other, it would be a net gain for safety. Rear end collisions are relatively less dangerous. Collisions caused by red light runners are among the most dangerous there are.

(I have some sensitivity to this issue, having been hit by a red light runner going approximately 50 mph on a Boston city street some years ago. I was very lucky; he hit the front of my car, sending us both spinning across Huntington Avenue until we came a stop at the front door of Brigham and Women's Hospital - where someone who'd just been stabbed was standing on the sidewalk screaming, "Help! He cut me!" It was an interesting night. Had I come through that intersection about a second sooner I'd probably have been killed. In a sign of the typical bad driver's mentality, the guy who ran the light jumped out of his car and screamed, "What the fuck were you doing?")

Also here in Houston, the stupid issue of the day is a new towing program. If you car breaks down on a freeway in Houston, and you don't get it moving in six minutes, you will be towed whether you like it or not, for a base charge of $75 plus mileage.

I think it's a very sensible program with some flaws. Sensible because I remember a steady stream of people getting killed on shoulders of freeways in DC when their cars broke down - it's very dangerous. Sensible because disabled cars lead to big traffic problems. Flawed because six minutes is too short (fifteen seems more reasonable) and there should be some provision for people who have auto club memberships to pay for things like that. (I don't buy the "what if you have no money" argument; if you can't afford to have your car towed away if it become disabled on the side of the road, you have no business driving on a public street. Sorry.)

However, a small number of people are very worked up, and they've got the ear of a state senator, John Whitmire, KPRC reports. I don't know much about John Whitmire but I think he's grandstanding. I did a little homework on him and found one interesting fact; he's the chicken shit who, when the state's Democratic legislators left the state to prevent quorum and thus a vote on the gerrymandering of our congressional districts last year, snack back so the GOP could pass it. So I already don't like the guy. (He's not my state senator though.)

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