Back in March and April, when we were being asked to stay home, streets and four lanes were eerily bereft of traffic. It felt like driving on Christmas morning. But as restrictions have relaxed the traffic has come back with a vengeance.
North Carolina drivers appear to want to make up for lost mileage as they pour onto our city streets and interstates. Not only are vehicles back in record numbers, their drivers seem to have lost any remembrance of road regulations and courtesy, leading us to ponder whether we are safer going to a super-spreader event or taking our chances on the roads?
No longer is the unwritten "9 and under"
etiquette followed. You know, the mantra that so long as you are driving 9 miles an hour or less over the posted speed you won't get stopped. Anymore, on roads where the speed limit is 70, it isn't uncommon to get passed by not one but many driving 80, 85 or higher. And let me ask this: Did auto manufacturers stop putting turn signal indicators on vehicles, you know those long sticks on the left-hand side of the steering wheel? Nobody uses them anymore. It gets testy when a car suddenly decides to pull into your lane at 70 miles per hour without any signal.
And some of these daredevils learned driving training at bumper car rides. With little more than a car length's separation, they merge. It feels like parallel parking at 70 miles an hour. Many then cross over two or three lanes of traffic, only to dart suddenly off the exit ramp they were alerted about 2 miles ago. Recently I saw a car exit too fast, lose control trying to correct, cut dangerously in front of me and speed off the shoulder into the woods. It must be pretty common — nobody stopped.
Is there some great pleasure driving in the passing lane 10 miles an hour slower than everyone else? Don't try flashing your headlights or blowing your horn; they only slow down more or shoot you the bird. And many are obviously oblivious of the law that requires they turn on their headlights while operating their windshield wipers. That may explain why manufacturers just automatically turn on the lights when wipers are being used.
While we are picking scabs let's acknowledge that you can't travel on a four lane without experiencing road construction and those tall red cones blocking one lane of traffic, while simultaneously lowering the speed limit by 15 miles an hour. I get it, some drivers threaten the safety of road workers. But 4 miles of cones? It is more the rule than the exception to have 3, 4 or 5 miles of cones, only to encounter one vehicle with 2 or 3 guys working over an expanse of 100 yards. Couldn't they just cone off 1 mile or so at a time (like they used to) and, when they finish one section, move the cones to block off another section? This practice only heightens driver anxiety and God knows we don't need more driver angst.
Last, but not least, we have to comment on the garbage along our roads. We've seen couches, mattresses, appliances, bumpers and car parts, construction materials, coolers and all manner of items. Everyone knows you won't get cited for littering so why not just roll down the window and throw the McDonalds bag out? Wouldn't want to dirty up your vehicle. Volunteers can't keep up picking up the trash.
Sadly, these and other signals point to the incivility evident today. It is literally "my way or the highway."
And to think North Carolina used to boast we were The Good Roads State.
Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN
, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues that airs on UNC-TV main channel Fridays at 7:30pm, Sundays 12:30pm and UNC North Carolina Channel Fridays at 10:00pm, Saturdays at 4:00pm and Sundays at 10:00am
. Contact Tom at NC Spin.