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A glitch

Powerless in Palo Alto

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Yesterday as I was driving into Palo Alto I discovered the city was without power. Stop lights turned off entirely. Intelligent drivers understand that this means we need to treat unprotected intersections as if they’re 4-way stops.

But some people treat un-powered stoplights like green lights. Either they don’t see it, they’re not considering that cross-traffic might be a hazard, or they’re belligerent. All of these behaviors are the causes of traffic accidents and they’re all reasons for intelligent drivers to be angry when bad drivers are present.

Most people understood the rules yesterday, but there were an alarming number of people who didn’t. Take for instance Person A stopped at the intersection with B behind him. Person B would wait for A to go, and when A went, B wouldn’t stop. B acts differently while driving than he does on his own two feet because it’s difficult to reprimand B when he’s in a 2000-pound metallic shell. That’s the nature of driving: we don’t follow B to reprimand him for breaking the rules when he’s in a car. On the street we could look at him and make him feel bad, or say something, which can often be enough to change a behavior.

If B wasn’t this way, the CHP wouldn’t have to exist. But realistically, B is always this way, and the rules (and stoplights) are there to keep him in check. Expecting B to be just as rational as A is impossbile, so traffic laws seem to be the best way to deal with him for now.

Maybe in the future we can discriminate against B’s and apply different laws to them and thereby increase efficiency on the road. I have no idea how this would work. Maybe the law could impose yearly testing, or install sensors in cars to track driver eye movement and see who’s a critical driver and who’s not. Maybe a crowd-sourcing method where we rate drivers using GPS and Yelp would be better. All of those have serious problems, so I’m not the one to make this technology, but if different laws could be applied to drivers based on their skills (higher insurance rates and lower speed limits for bad drivers), I’d be incentivized to drive better, and it could incentivize other drivers to do the same.

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Written by xout

February 18, 2010 at 10:00 am

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