discomfort (2006-32)

Common Sense and Sensibility

Traffic cameras don’t account for reality

by Steve Dupree

Back during my stint in the U.S. Navy, at one point I was stationed in London, England. We didn’t actually have a base that we worked on there; we had a building in the center city. The Navy building was on Grovenor Square, as is the American Embassy. When one is stationed in London, one is required to find a house or apartment and commute to work.

Early one morning I was on my way to work from my apartment several miles away in the north of the city. It was still dark and traffic was essentially non-existent. I was riding my trusty(ish) Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. I came to an intersection and was caught by the light there. Across the intersection from me sat a local police vehicle. After a few seconds of me sitting there waiting on the light, the police car rolls through the intersection, pulls up to me, rolls down his window and says, “Bloody hell, mate, there’s no bleeding traffic. What are you waiting on?”

Let’s contrast that experience to one I had here in the good old U.S. of A. recently that is apparently possible in any of several states and cities around the nation.

I was headed for home downtown after a long day at the salt mines. As I approached the intersection at slightly less than the speed limit, during a period of moderate traffic after the evening rush hour, the light went from green to yellow. I was nearly in the wide intersection when the change happened and figured that if I slammed on the brakes not only would I endanger traffic behind me, but I would likely be well within the intersection before I could actually stop. So, I figured I’d speed up a little and go on through. I was in the third quarter of the intersection when I saw the flash behind me and knew that my picture had just been taken.

That’s right, traffic cameras. Suddenly, 35 years of driving experience with only two accidents, neither of which could be blamed on me, meant nothing. Suddenly the experience gained of driving in a variety of cities, states, countries and/or situations, meant nothing. No past demonstration of vehicular competence or general common sense meant anything at all. The only thing that mattered was what that camera, what that isolated fraction of a second of my life, appears to indicate. To the best of my knowledge, it will be impossible to tell anything about the other traffic (or lack thereof) entering or waiting to enter the intersection.

The experience I related about that morning in London was pretty much typical of the attitude I encountered throughout the variety of European nations I visited and drove in. Common sense was expected even when that ran counter to what the lines on the road or traffic signals or road signs were telling you. If you showed up in court there and tried to use lines on the road or the rest as a defense for doing something stupid, you were informed that you were supposed to use common sense and the charge stands anyway. If your failure to yield half of your lane or thereabouts so that the vehicle behind you can safely pass should result in an accident leading to injury or death, you are in deep kimchee.

(To be fair, I think I remember hearing about a recent camera system in London that would allow for charging those who insist on ignoring the excellent public transportation system and driving their own vehicles into the city. Since it has nothing to do with their driving skills but instead, the extreme traffic congestion of the city, I don’t think it is especially relevant to my line of thought. However, I do strive to be fair and complete in my arguments.)

It has now been nearly two weeks since I saw the flash behind me, and I still have not seen a ticket or warning in my mailbox. That is a good thing but it doesn’t really alter this bitch session. In this time of $3-a-gallon gasoline and bad air days, I am still expected to sit idling at an intersection that is devoid of traffic other than me. Rather than me being expected to make use of my many years of driving experience to make reasonable decisions, maybe, just maybe, I will be allowed to make a reasonable decision. Instead of singing with the joyful ignorance, innocence, and naiveté of my youth, now when I hear the last couple of lines of the national anthem, this reasonably well-traveled veteran has to fight to avoid smirking.