The longer I’ve been driving, the more it seems that people obey traffic rules only when it is convenient for them to do so. I was reminded if this the other day, when I followed several cars to a quiet intersection in our neighborhood. A stop sign faced us, but not the cross-traffic. There was no cross-traffic at the time, and the two cars in front of me didn’t even give a nod of acknowledgement to the stop sign. They slowed just enough to make the right turn safely. The second car’s brake lights barely flickered. It made think that instead of a “Stop” sign, what we have are “Stoptional” signs.
For a long time, I didn’t know why this kind of behavior annoyed me. I’ve written about it before. On the one hand, there is the annoyance at seeing other people flagrantly break the rules of the road, while I adhere to them. On the other hand, why should it bother me. Many of these lapses occur at times when there is no other traffic in sight. I have wondered from time-to-time if there has ever been a study correlating a person’s disregard for the rules of the road with a higher accident rate. But as I often see this disregard at times and places when accidents would be unlikely, I’ve never bothered to pursue it.
I considered a scenario most drivers have experienced at one time or another: You are driving down a long road in the middle of nowhere. You come to a red light at an intersecting road. There is no traffic anywhere in sight. Do you wait at the red light, or proceed through the light? As there are no police or other cars around, proceeding through the light doesn’t hurt anyone, right?
Then I began to realize what it is that bothers me about this behavior. We stop at a stop sign to build the habit of stopping when we see one so that we don’t ever accidentally run one and cause a crash. It is the habit that is important. When building a habit, you want to avoid breaking the chain at all costs. The idea is to make the habit an innate thing that you never have to consciously think about. Running through stops signs and red lights at deserted intersections breaks that chain. It works against habit formation, and that, in turn has consequences.
I enjoy driving much more than I used to. When I lived in L.A. I drove everywhere because I had to. My commute was terrible. It took nearly 15 years for me to shake that feeling. These days, we drive to Florida and to Maine each year, and it is delightful. I know that I shouldn’t let little things like this get to me. Sometimes, I just wish people would show less disdain for the rules of the road. Is that too much to ask?