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Thursday, September 9, 2021

A Few Rules of the Road

A Few Rules of the Road

A recent weekend trip to Central Oregon got me thinking about drivers, driving, and in some cases some laws that need to be passed, enforced, bent (I’ll explain), and in some cases should be severely punishable by international law.


Knock on wood, but I traditionally don’t get tickets. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that I’m somewhat responsible in the first place, don’t want my insurance raised, would never think of jeopardizing the precious cargo who are riding along with me, and I’ve learned my lesson from several youthful experiences. My last speeding ticket was incurred at the tender age of 19, driving across the San Francisco Bay Bridge in my little orange ’65 VW (which was named Humphrey). I was pulled over and tagged for going 53 MPH in a 50 zone. Really. I took it to court, pleaded with Judge Janet Akins (who I’ll never forget), and was told this … “Young man, let me put it to you like this … if everyone on the bridge is going 90 and you’re going 51, the officer is within his rights to pull you over. I find you guilty, that will be forty-eight dollars.” 

Followed by the classic gavel on the desk. Apparently Judge Akins taught me a lesson, because I’ve managed to make it through several decades of driving a good many fast cars and have yet to receive another speeding ticket. Two BMW’s, an Audi S4, a Boxster, a Corvette, Infiniti, Grand Prix GTP … you get the picture. No tix. Don’t give them a reason to pull you over.


I used to work for Cala Foods in San Francisco, and all the employees were required to park in the street in spaces with parking meters. The meters required a quarter per hour, which is of course not always possible when you’re working. I would sometimes go four or five days without a parking ticket, and other days would yield two in a single day. Over the 3 1/2 years I worked there, I managed to amass several thousands of dollars in tickets, which I refused to pay. San Francisco County has an interesting philosophy with these … if they catch you, they’ll take you to jail. But if you can avoid paying them for (about) three years, the system tosses them out. But it also means that you can’t renew your license, since the tickets show up. Therefore … I drove with an expired license for a couple of years, waiting for my bazillion tickets to be bounced from the county’s computers. Don’t give them ANY reason to pull you over!


I try to be a good driver, follow the rules, perform random acts of kindness on the road, and generally keep my proverbial nose clean. So, it totally irks me when other people don’t do their part. Bad drivers are a universal thing … California doesn’t have any exclusivity in this area, they’re everywhere. Boston drivers are legendary (and usually admit it), New York is a zoo, Atlanta has gotten horrendous with traffic and consequently there are more troublesome drivers there, and our home turf in Bend is not immune despite being such a small community. The speed limit in Central Oregon is 55 on the “freeways,” and a ridiculous 45 MPH on the new Parkway that parallels 3rd Street, which was the old way of traversing north-south Bend. And it’s a great source of revenue for the local and State gendarmes, who will begrudgingly give you 5 MPH over the limit, but 10’s pushing it and you’re probably begging for a citation. Local cops ride BMW 1200 RT’s and drive white cars … some with light bars, some without. The State Troopers drive very non-distinct dark blue Crown Vic’s for the most part, but it’s not unusual to see them in various SUV’s, Dodge Chargers, etc. Our trek through a stretch of Highway 5 in Northern California last week, uncovered a similar pattern for the state’s infamous “CHP’s.”   They’re now driving everything, and it’s incredibly difficult to spot them. And as much as I try to stay within the laws of the road, when you’re driving 500+ miles between homes in two states, you can’t always strictly obey all the posted limits. And of course, you just might run into a cop like the one who tagged me for three miles over the limit on the bridge, and the subsequent judge who enforced it. I equate cops to rattlesnakes … you might be able to go for miles and miles and not see one, but you know they’re out there and will nail you when you least expect it. Plan on a certain amount per square mile and keep your eyes peeled.


New Rules of the Road … Proposal 1

This brings me to my first proposal for a new law. I firmly feel that this should be an international law, issued by and enforced through the World Court in The Hague in Holland. I think every cop car on the planet should be black and white, with a clearly visible light rack on the roof. No exceptions. Period. Black bodied, white roofed Ford Crown Victorias, clearly marked on both front doors with their local jurisdiction’s seal, no hidden lights, nothing sneaky, no variations anywhere. They’re pros, and they should give us at least a fighting chance. Adept drivers can pick out Crown Vic headlights and taillights at night, but there’s no way we can identify all of the light patterns on every vehicle out there. Play fair, paint ’em black and white, put big lights on ’em, and be done with it.


The weekend trip to Bend took us over several toll bridges in both directions. Most of the California bridges collect tolls in one direction only now, which makes sense and speeds up traffic. This isn’t the case everywhere, particularly on toll roads, like the ones that are common in New England and other parts of the East Coast. The best solution for anyone who drives bridges and toll roads with regularity is to buy some kind of bulk pass. In California, it’s called “Fastrack,” and it requires that a device be placed on your dash or windshield, and you pay to have it activated. This kind of device lets you drive in the Fastrack lane and avoid slowing down and paying a toll. Great idea, everyone should use ’em if you do a lot of bridge or toll road driving. But everyone doesn’t, and to compound the pain of slowing down and paying your toll, a good many people don’t think ahead and get their money ready. Everyone who crosses a toll bridge knows there’s going to be a toll, and they should have the posted amount ready, way before they get to the tollbooth. If you’re driving the 95-toll route down the New Jersey Turnpike, you’re aware that there’s a cost involved. The words “toll road” should be a giveaway. This brings me to …


New Rules of the Road … Proposal 2

Maybe it was just my luck of the draw on this trip, but it seems that at least one of the people in front of me at every tollbooth on this trip had to fumble for their money at the tollbooth. These things are backing up traffic, as they’re put there in the middle of passing cars to collect money from you. Don’t compound the mess by not having your four dollars IN HAND when you get up to the tollbooth window!  My proposal is this: If you don’t have your money in hand at the toll booth, you’ll be fined $1000, receive a “point” on your license (technically it’s not a moving violation, but it’s my law and I’ll do what I want with it), and you’ll be required to pull into a waiting area to the side of the road, where you’ll be required to sit in your car with the engine turned off for 2 hours. I’d venture a guess that nobody will ever forget to dig their money out of their pockets again, and likely will have it ready several miles in advance of the many signs that warn you of the upcoming toll road. With all the driving I do, there are some things that just jump out at you. Generalizations, patterns, stereotypes, and behaviors that can be observed virtually anywhere. Inside crowded urban areas, out in the country, or on a long stretch of interstate … doesn’t matter, they’re out there, and unfortunately a lot of the stereotypes are right on the level. God forbid that I offend anyone, but the first observation stems from the type of car a person drives. Obviously, there are people who for one reason or another are stuck with the car they’re driving. Everyone’s not fortunate enough to have a dream car or even a remotely “fun” car at his or her disposal. I’m what the car magazines would term a “driving enthusiast,” meaning I love cars that handle well, look nice, and generally perform better than average. I look for windy roads, love to open it up now and then, enjoy compliments on what I drive, etc. And when I see someone up ahead in a new Prius (which will be covered separately later), or something like a base model Kia or Corolla, a rock-stock Mitsubishi Galant or Mazda 3, a Mercury Marauder or Lincoln Navigator, a Hummer, or any car made in France or Yugoslavia, I’m suspecting they don’t fall into the “enthusiast” category. These cars are a means to get from point A to B, to work and back, to the soccer game with the kids, or to the local Wal-Mart to pick up a few loaves of white Wonder Bread, Velveeta cheese product, and a half gallon of Best Foods mayonnaise for a gourmet lunch. The problem arises when a non-spirited driver thinks they own the road. The afore-mentioned Central Oregon freeways with their posted 55 MPH limit are a good example. If you’re not going to go the speed that traffic is going, pull over. Their belief that “I’m going 55 and that’s the posted limit” doesn’t cut it. Everyone goes 5 or 10 MPH over the limit … it’s ok, you won’t get a ticket (unless you’re me, and you’re 19, and it’s not your day). If you have 14 cars behind you, many of which have drivers who are clearly gesturing at you in a very un-ladylike way, you need to pull over or speed up. It’s not your road; you don’t have the right to cruise at a sub-limit speed if there’s anyone else on the road that may want to get around you.


New Rules of the Road … Proposal 3
This brings me to my third proposal. I believe there should be a nationally accessible toll-free number to report slow pokes that won’t get out of the way. The number would be pre-programmed into every cell phone to avoid the necessity of dialing while you’re driving (see below). Hold down the nine on the touch pad, an operator comes online, and you tell them the idiot’s car license number. The penalty for the offending driver would be yet another $1000 fine for the first offense, and confiscation of their license and their boring car with the second offense. My final rant is regarding cell phones, which I feel should be abolished from the planet, except for absolute emergency use. I’ve never done a text message in my life and wouldn’t know how to send or receive one. I send and receive email on my cell, as it’s part of my job, but I don’t “text” (like that’s a legitimate verb), and if the device were to go away completely, I’d be a happy camper. I’ve worked as a telecom manager for many years, for some very large Silicon Valley companies. Consequently, I’ve come to hate phones. And I humbly (yet correctly) feel that phones in cars are pretty much unnecessary, but at the very least they should be Bluetooth hands-free devices only. California passed a law over a year ago, that hands-free are the only permitted devices in a car. And then they brilliantly tacked on a whopping $20 fine for the first offense, and even this is rarely enforced. Make it hurt, guys!  It’s become painfully easy to spot people on the phone in the car. You can see them out there a quarter mile away, swerving, speeding up and slowing down, not signaling to change lanes, etc. It’s become a very valid stereotype … “Hey, look at that car up there … let me go out on a limb and say I bet they’re on the phone!”  And I’m always right. Always. Hang up the phone, drive the car. It’s not the end of the world. The call will wait.


New Rules of the Road … Proposal 4
This one’s simple … If you’re caught holding a phone in the car, and either dialing, talking, or God-forbid texting, your car and phone are confiscated on the spot, and you lose your license for five years. Harsh?  Too bad. Buy a hands-free device or pull off the road. Get over it. And a corollary to this law is if you’re caught on the phone while changing lanes or exiting the freeway without signaling to do so, you’ll incur an additional penalty of a month of hard labor at a large farm in California’s Central Valley in mid-summer. And you must wear a ski parka and long pants all day long. Any combination of the above would of course simply be compounded.


– Cops in “sneaky cars” who are caught talking on the phone lose their jobs, the car gets donated to a needy family, and they receive the regular penalty for the phone use. They’ll also be required to completely eat the phone. Chew slowly, beware of small plastic pieces.


– People caught talking on the phone and fumbling for their money at a tollbooth, causing traffic to back up behind them?  All applicable fines and the drivers in the first three cars behind the offender get to punch them in the stomach. If it happens to be on a bridge, they get to go for a swim, too.


– And any cop caught in an unmarked patrol car, talking on a cell phone, and holding up traffic will be immediately turned over to the Turkish government for special processing.


– And finally, any driver doing any of the above in a Prius, including driving in the fast lane of any road for any reason, will lose their car, home, job, and bank account, in addition to being turned over to the Turkish government for the afore-mentioned special processing. There’s simply no excuse for these cars on the road, and they seem to encourage an attitude of superiority among drivers that you’d never see in any other car. You’re not better than everyone else simply because your car gets better mileage. It’s a ridiculous car. Sell it, donate it, let it be crushed into scrap metal, but keep it out of my way. And as a reward for those of us who don’t get tickets, don’t cause, or get into accidents, enjoy driving fun cars on windy roads, always have our money out at a toll booth, and think cell phones should be abolished, will have all insurance and registration fees waived indefinitely, as long as they continue to be the wonderful people they surely are.


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