Thursday, April 12, 2007

Rubbernecks, Multitaskers and Bad Mergers-Oh my!

One of the things that really stood out when I moved to the Bay Area was that traffic is not just something that is bothersome at certain hours of the day, but that it basically runs your life. I find that many people schedule their day around traffic, to the point where they even choose a job, school, relationship based on how close they are to a freeway exit.

Given the fact that California has an obscene amount of cars and the Bay Area is lacking in space, that doesn’t excuse the fact people are rear ending each other because they are too busy looking at the flat tire on the side of the road.

Almost 80 percent of car accidents occur due to distracted drivers. Whether they’re spacing out or under the influence, the bottom line is that there are a lot of irresponsible drivers. The term “accident” is misleading as there is always someone at fault. Accidents due to the car malfunctioning or the bad weather are relatively low. I noticed that in California, even when there’s heavy rain, there are people who are still driving like the roads are dry.

The simple rules of the road seem to go ignored. Slow traffic belongs in the right lane, yet plenty of people like to stay in the fast lane and are completely oblivious to the fact that they are being passed on the right.

Tunnel vision is a huge problem with drivers, especially those that commute long distances everyday and find it easier to just stay in one lane and either hit the gas or the brake. Whatever happened to just coasting? Slamming the brakes because you’re tail gating is dangerous and causes more traffic behind you.

The average person’s commute time in California is 10 percent higher than the nation’s average. People are spending more time in stop-and-go traffic that leads to frustration, road rage and increased stress levels.

Rubberneckers certainly don’t help traffic jams when they decide to slow to a crawl to see what is happening off the side of the road. Generally, if there is a problem off the side of the road, you don’t want to blaze past them at 100 mph, but you certainly don’t need to be gawking and staring if you don’t have plans to pull over and help.

Effective July 2008, driving while using a hand-held cell phone will be banned in the state of California. It is the most common form of distraction for drivers, so it doesn’t make sense why people don’t use hands-free kits now.

People claim that they can multitask, but if walking and chewing gum can be a challenge, then it would be wise to find an alternative to driving and chatting on the phone. Invest in a hands-free kit or headset.

Instead of placing all of the blame on bad drivers, I can sympathize when it comes to the bizarre and often poor construction of the road. I don’t understand when lanes end without warning, especially when you’re not in the right-most lane.

Seven lanes merging into three doesn’t help matters either. The idea that cars should be letting every other car merge in seems to be lost on Bay Area drivers. The one car that you decide to cut off or not let in won’t really help you get to your destination any faster.

Merge lanes that are no longer than a car length is not a merge lane. I don’t think anyone expects every car to be able to accelerate from zero to 60 in two seconds so that they don’t get rear ended.

Despite all of Caltrans’ shortcomings, it wouldn’t hurt to be more attentive and to be extra careful when you’re behind the steering wheel. If you don’t think you’re a bad driver, then everyone else around you probably is. Not only do you need to be on alert to avoid hitting someone else, you need that extra attention to dodge other cars on the road.

Sophia is a communications major that frequently has to dodge cars on the way to class.

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