By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Virginia — home of the dumbed-down “reckless driving” statute (drive faster than 20 MPH over any speed limit and you automatically qualify; see here) has actually done something sensible for once, with regard to its traffic laws.
Flashing yellow “proceed when clear” signals are replacing Thou Must Sit And Wait red lights at left turn lanes. This means that when it’s safe to do so, you may legally make your left turn at any time. Previously, you were required to wait — and wait — until you got the often all-too-brief green arrow. If you didn’t make it to the green in time, it was time to wait for the next cycle. Even if there was no reason — other than it being against the law — to turn left when the light was red.
Somehow, common sense prevailed and, behold! Traffic flows. There are fewer delays at signals, because cars don’t stack up as much. This flashing yellow business encourages the exercise of initiative and individual judgment. It rewards the of paying attention.
We could used more of that, yes?
It turns out that most people are — generally — sensible and can be trusted.
Said sensible people understand that there is no reason — other than the presumption of general ineptitude — for a competent driver, who has functioning eyes, to stop and stand idle, wasting time and gas waiting for a mindless signal to tell him what his mind already knows:
That it’s safe to proceed.
And if left turn lanes (where a driver is crossing against traffic) can be managed with “proceed when clear” flashing yellows, the same principle could be applied to right turn lanes, which merely involve merging with the flow of traffic and so ought to represent a lesser challenge.
And not just that.
Why should it be illegal to not come to a complete stop at a stop sign, when there’s no reason to stop completely (other than it being “against the law”)? If there are no other cars waiting at opposing stop signs, if there is no cross traffic bearing down, it does not make sense to bring one’s vehicle to a complete stop before proceeding. It wastes time, it wastes gas, it increases wear and tear on your vehicle. Stopping completely only makes sense if there are other cars present. Often, there are not. In which case, stopping completely is as absurd as idling away in a left turn lane waiting for an automated signal to tell you it’s ok to proceed.
Drivers should be encouraged to think — and act. To use their eyes (and their brains) and proceed accordingly. Basing traffic laws on passivity and mindless obedience tends to result in … passive and mindlessly obedient drivers. People who sit and stare into space, or diddle on their iPhones, instead of paying attention to what’s going on around them.
Do we want less of that — or more?
So far, Virginia’s cautious foray away toward trusting drivers to exercise sound judgment has not resulted in more wrecks. Just as “shall issue” laws making it easier for honest people to carry a gun haven’t resulted in a “wild West” shoot-’em-up.
People seem to grok.
This is good.
If this most heterodox notion of trusting people to use their heads takes root, who knows what might happen?
America might become more like America used to be again…