Wednesday, May 10, 2006

When Courtesy Is A Bad Thing

"Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness."
~ William Shakespeare

OK. I'm going to try again. Yesterday, blogger wouldn't let me post anything. I could not scroll down to the "Publish Post" button. Everything I tried was fruitless, and I eventually ended up accidentally wiping out the entire post. I no longer have a long lunch period that allows me to work on the blog at lunch time. In fact, I no longer get to come home at lunch at all. Last night, when I returned home from work, it was already after 9 PM, and I didn't see much point in posting an entry that late in the day.

That should be a adequate explanation for Tug.

It seems that the number of traffic jams increase in direct proportion to the warmer weather. Yes, the increasing amount of road construction contributes to the problem, but there are other causes of traffic jams with are completely needless, and that is my subject for today.

Being a "professional" driver, I have had many opportunities to observe behaviors that contribute to this problem, which most people consider to be time wasting and a source of great frustration during what should be a pleasurable experience. That is, taking a drive on a nice warm springtime day.

While there are plenty of legitimate causes of traffic jams, such as accidents blocking lanes of traffic, and construction blocking lanes and sometimes whole roads, there are those causes that could be avoided by simply following traffic laws.

The first is tailgating. Here is how tailgating causes traffic jams:

In moderately heavy traffic, a driver impatiently parks his vehicle upon the back bumper of the car ahead of him. Almost. As the traffic moves, the offending driver, who probably is doing it because he is in a hurry and is attempting to encourage the driver ahead of him to speed up, has to touch his brakes, if only for an instant occasionally as knows he is too close to the vehicle in front of him to be able to stop if that driver brakes. When he touches his brake pedal, the driver immediately behind him also touches his brakes in anticipation of the driver in front of him slowing down suddenly. Only this driver touches his brakes for a split second longer. And the driver behind him does likewise. Each following driver has to hit his brakes, and everyone leaves his foot on the pedal for a split second longer than the driver in front of him.

Eventually, far down the road, the traffic is stopped completely. All ironically, because one driver wants to go faster. He inadvertently caused traffic to move slower.

Recently, I have observed another behavior that creates this phenomena. Incredibly, this behavior is driver courtesy.


I have found myself in traffic jams recently, wondering what has caused this, only to find when I reach the end of the stoppage, that there is seemingly no reason for it at all. Then I see why. As drivers prepare to merge into a moderately heavy line of traffic on a highway off of a side road, and on a freeway entrance ramp, many of them attempt to merge at too slow a speed. Consequently they end up having to stop dead on the entrance ramp and wait for traffic to clear enough that they can proceed safely. Of course, the slower they approach, the more room they need between passing cars to facilitate the entry.

This in itself does not cause traffic jams. It is the drivers already on the freeway that do that. They will slow down to allow the car attempting to merge into the traffic flow. Therein lies the cause of this kind of traffic jam. He slows, and the driver behind him has to slow down. And the driver behind him. And so on.

Now, this kind of traffic stoppage could easily be avoided by all drivers simply following traffic laws. An acceleration ramp is called an acceleration ramp because the driver is expected to accelerate in order to smoothly assimilate into already moving traffic. He should do that.

Additionally, the drivers on the freeway should never slow down to allow people who don't understand the "merge" concept to enter the traffic flow. Even if they are being courteous.

Because, ultimately, the act of being courteous leads to needless traffic jams.

That, of course, is not the only way courteous drivers have thoughtlessly impeded the flow of traffic, but it's the most common way.

That's all I have for today. Perhaps my readers can come up with other examples of when courtesy is a bad thing. Feel free to contribute.

Recently I mentioned that I was going to have to get a copy machine for my independent contracting business because the company I contract for closed our local office and consequently, took away, among other things, our copy machine. Tech suggested I get a copy machine that uses toner so I wouldn't have to spend monies necessary to keep myself in printer ink and cartridges.

But I don't have the money for one of those. So, I ended up paying about $80.00 for a Hewlitt Packard printer/scanner/copier. I found one that requires printer ink cartridges, but I did the needed research to find a relatively cheap one that uses the absolute cheapest ink cartridges I could find, so hopefully, it won't be too costly to replace them.

My son, ever resourceful, decided to experiment with all aspects of the device, and utilized every function, (scanner, copier, and printer) to create this rather eerie picture of himself:

He printed it out, and copied it as well. We have more than one hard copy of this picture. No doubt I will have to replace the cartridges sooner than I originally anticipated.


ELAshley said...

Interesting... take a look at my pic... Scanner! I justify it by saying "This is me "through a glass darkly" "

Lone Ranger said...

I've driven all over the world and have shared the road with everything from armored personnel carriers to oxcarts and camels. Drivers in different countries seem to have different quirks. Merging is definitely the Americans' Achilles' heel. Not only do drivers attempt to merge at too slow a speed (usually 42 mph, for some reason) but drivers already on the highway refuse to yield. Would it kill them to tap the brakes to let someone merge?

Another problem is that many immigrants -- legal and illegal -- have less than three years of driving experience. I was driving a dump truck on the farm when I was 13, and tractors before that.

Different police forces have different accident removal skills too. In Los Angeles, you very seldom see the cause of an accident unless it occurred just a few minutes ahead of you. A motorcycle cop will zigzag across five or six lanes of traffic, herding cars like cattle to slow them down to about 15. A five-minute traffic break is all the LA cops need to remove an accident. Here in the DC metro area, they fiddle faddle around for hours clearing wreckage and investigating accidents.

Maybe the solution is like in science fiction novels, where one building houses businesses, people who work there, and places for shopping and recreation, so nobody would have to commute.

Lone Ranger said...

elashley, I thought that picture meant you were a serial killer.

tugboatcapn said...

Mark, I was picking on you. You post whatever you want, whenever you get around to it.

We will still be here... ;-)

You are exactly right about Traffic problems and their causes.

For some reason it doesn't bother me when I am in my Big Truck.

When I gat caught in a Traffic Jam in my car, it drives me absolutely Bananas!

I'm afraid that in my car, I probably drive as badly as anyone else...

The picture is cool. You should do one of yourself like that.

Etchen said...

Good post-I think tailgating has to be one of the most annoying destructive behaviors or drivers-very aggravating indeed.