Thursday, December 22, 2005
Multiple choice quiz: There’s a stoplight ahead. It just turned red. There’s a car in front of you and it starts to slow down. What do you do?
A: Slow down.
B: Grab your cell phone to check voicemail.
C: Put the pedal to the metal until you almost run into the car in front of you, and then slam hard on the brakes when it stops at the red light, get irate, and give the driver the finger in his rearview.
If your answer is C, then you are not alone.
Every day, countless drivers in Monterey County commit senseless acts of stupidity and do their part to make the world a less happy and more dangerous place to live.
In urban areas where public transportation systems are inadequate to meet most commuters’ needs—like Monterey County—driving is a necessity, not a luxury. So it’s common for Americans to start pushing freeway speeds when they’re still in puberty.
If you grew up in Monterey County and have never lived anywhere else, then you may not know just how bad some drivers in this part of the world are.
Drivers like the man in a white Honda Accord who, three weeks ago, nearly ran over a pedestrian in broad daylight on Fremont Boulevard in Seaside. The pedestrian was crossing the street at a clearly marked crosswalk about two blocks south of Broadway Avenue. One car stopped to allow the man to walk through, as the law dictates, but the driver of the Honda, in another lane, failed to stop, and then actually blasted his horn at the pedestrian in anger as he zoomed past within a few feet of his body.
The pedestrian, visibly shaken, ran to the curb.
An even more common road violation is speeding. Traveling at 15 or 20 miles over the speed limit on Highway 1 has become such a normal thing that someone driving the speed limit—the horror!—is treated like a pariah on the road, and attracts angry stares.
Sergeant Jeff Jackson of the Monterey Police Department says speeding is a huge problem in Monterey County.
“Our Peninsula gets foggy, or often gets slightly damp, so we see a lot of accidents that could have been avoided if people would have just slowed down a little bit,” Jackson says. “Basically, from 55 miles per hour to 70 miles per hour, the stopping distance is double.”
A California Highway Patrol officer in Salinas says the problem with going too fast on Monterey County roads is that the area is not built like a big city is, with four- and five-lane freeways. CHP Officer Christian Orellana says that for every 10 miles you tack on to your speed, you should leave at least one more car length between your car and the car in front of you. That means if you are going 60 miles per hour, you should stay at least six car lengths back.
“I’ve seen cars completely disintegrated after hitting another car, a wall or a tree,” Orellana says. “There’s no need to speed to get where you’re going, ‘cause eventually you’ll get there.”
The CHP does what it can to stem the problem, but there are simply too many violators, Orellana added. “There’s no way to stop every single car that is speeding,” he says. “We have to be safe out there, too. We can’t dart into traffic just to stop one person. Officers use discretion.”
Another problem on local roads is that too many drivers don’t follow the most basic rule of all: common courtesy.
“It’s a huge thing, but a lot of people don’t have that,” Orellana says. “Everyone is in a rush to get nowhere.”
Just like the woman driving her black Volkswagon Jetta on Highway 1 between Marina and Seaside recently. For no apparent reason, she got about five feet behind a yellow school bus (it was empty) at 65 miles per hour and rode that way for several miles.
There was a passing lane she could have used, but didn’t. If the bus driver would have slowed down suddenly for any reason, the Jetta’s driver would have had almost no time to react.
Tailgating is, indeed, a top bad driving maneuver in Monterey County. It is not only dangerous, traffic officials say, but it is also stressful for the person who is being tailgated. The Department of Motor Vehicles’ driving handbook lends some helpful hints for how to get rid of a tailgater.
“If [a tailgater] is following you, be careful! Brake slowly before stopping. Tap your brake lightly a few times to warn the tailgater you are slowing down.
“‘Lose’ the tailgater as soon as you can by changing lanes. If you can’t change lanes, slow down enough to encourage the tailgater to go around you. If this does not work, pull off the road when it is safe and let the tailgater pass.”
With so many people already sharing the roads and highways in Monterey County—and so many more who are expected to add to the congestion in coming years—bad drivers are one headache everyone could do without.