Red Lights, Rules, and the Running Of

So, I have gotten used to people running red lights in the early and late hours of the day, when traffic isn’t as heavy as at other times, and the law-enforcement presence is muted. In fact, on my route to Day Job, there’s one county road intersection (with stop lights and turn arrows) that I just assume will be run, often flagrantly. Indeed, on a daily basis, people race through north-bound, not even on a “stale green.” Sometimes the left turn light has been green for a while and they still blast through. Thus far no one has been hurt or killed *taps wood*, because those of us who travel the path anticipate the running of the light. But some day . . .

In other aspects of life and driving, I’m seeing similar disregard for the law. Rolling stops when people used to halt fully. More aggressive driving, less patience, more cutting off of other drivers. Less patience in the grocery store, or on the phone. Fewer people smile at strangers, or check to se if anyone is nearby before moving and thus causing a minor collision or thump. On a larger scale, civic organizations and places of worship are seeing less participation, at least in the larger towns. Fortunately, the recent spate of small disasters (only four houses lost, only hundreds of miles of fence burned, only a few tons of hay and forage burned to ashes, only two firefighters badly hurt. Only . . .) has generated the usual wave of assistance and kindness. There but for the grace of a wind-shift, and so on.

I suspect part of the problem comes from the past two years. Governments and well-meaning other organizations encouraged isolation, shifting to on-line presence, and discouraged participation in civic life. Or perhaps I should say “civil life,” because the little rubbing against each other that trains us into civility and politeness was suspended. Add to that the appearance of “rules for you but not for us” or “rules for you but not for them,” and a feeling seems to have seeped into life that, “if it won’t hurt anyone, why follow the law?” So lights are run, stop-signs ignored, polite greetings brushed off, doors not held, eye contact and handshakes not made.

Those are relatively minor (or will be until someone hits someone else at 55 MPH at 0630 AM). The greater sense of “rules can be ignored because those people get to ignore them” is poison. The US is based on the idea of the Rule of Law, that all are equal under the law, and that red lights apply to the mayor as well as to the school bus and the family car. When the Authorities ignore the rules, or apply them selectively, then everyone else looks at “pointless” and “petty” rules and ignores them as well. Or when rules are created that cannot, and will not, be obeyed, other more important statutes get flouted. Even Newton’s Laws, which, alas, often leads to fatal results for more than just the initial offender.

The decline in civility and civil (in all senses of the word) discourse happened so fast. Two years, and things have changed. I suspect that the change was in progress, but concealed, at least around here. The pattern of decay was not so obvious. Two years of abnormality, and of increasingly flagrant disregard for the concept that “all men are created equal” in the eyes of both G-d and the Law brought the pattern into the open.

Or perhaps it just seems like a pattern. One of my talents is finding patterns and seeing how pieces of the past fit together. I could be seeing patterns that only exist in my own mind, or even just in my own region.

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11 thoughts on “Red Lights, Rules, and the Running Of

  1. Sadly, this sort of thing has been happening for decades (depending on where you live in the US).

    Back in the 80’s-90’s I became a “Chicago Driver” and scared Dad one time while driving the car outside Chicago.

    IRRC, it was a left turn when the traffic light was on yellow.

  2. I’ve been expecting this and have been surprised by how little I have seen so far.
    I suspect we’ll see LOTS more of this in the near future as momentum increases.

    In most of history, as laws and rules increase, so does lawbreaking.
    In the US, I expect to see unpopular laws being ignored, especially in areas where enforcement is light, such as rural areas where few police go and where local government is sympathetic.
    Of course, there are both upsides and downsides to this, as your light example shows.

  3. The greater sense of “rules can be ignored because those people get to ignore them” is poison.

    Amen.

    Iowa has been having weird spikes in Horrible Drivers– not as in, “folks aren’t doing what I want,” but stuff like not signaling

    The reason they’ve been spikes is that a week or two after I go “wow, what the heck happened, all these horrible drivers-” there is a spike in “where the heck did all these cops come from, and they’re actually pulling people over?!?!”

    Iowa is one of the leading states in ticketing for things like failure to signal, running red lights, cutting people off and tailgating. Not because everyone does them, but because they enforce the laws against them.

    It works.

    • Sounds good to me. Laws not enforced are worse than no laws at all.

      In my area the police no longer ticket anything that doesn’t show up on a radar gun. Well, not absolutely literally… but it’s to the point that turn signals are a rarity and people will blow red lights right in front of marked police cars, which do nothing. Expired or missing license plates are also common.

      Not that you see many police cars on the road nowadays; the JBTs got their new station with buzz-in steel security doors and shiny razor wire fencing, and mostly stay there.

  4. Q: What does a stop sign in the country mean?
    A: Absolutely nothing.

    That was a joke when I was young. There was some truth to it, as you didn’t need to actually stop when you could see any cross traffic coming a half mile or more down the road (and when you did, it was a lot more convenient to slow your roll so you reached the intersection after them—especially if you were pulling a trailer). But there wasn’t really any question about completely failing to yield the right-of-way. (I knew of one tragedy from someone running a stop sign, but since the one driver was extremely drunk and traveling at over 100mph, running the stop sign was the end of a long chain of willful antisocial choices.)

    Now, I did grow up in one of the few states where if you were in the intersection when it turned red, you were in violation. As opposed to most of the rest, where if you ENTER the intersection after the red, you’re in violation. The latter version has perverse incentives, and has caused me any number of problems when I’m trying to stop, and the person behind me is trying to stomp on the accelerator. But really, the most common reason I’ve seen for completely blowing a stoplight has been someone on their phone.

    The past two years of enforced isolation has greatly accelerated the rot, it was already there. But two years of seeing your fellowman as a threat and an obstacle has done very bad things to a significant chunk of the population that bought into the scare.

    • There are a couple of four-way stop intersections in my area. I try to avoid them when I can, but it’s not always practical.

      State law is quite simple and clear: the first car that stops is the first out. What I mostly see is *nobody* stops; they just slow down and creep up to the stop sign, then at some random moment they stand on the gas and try to rocket through. Others wave and point at other cars in some kind of “After You, Alfonse” schtick… then stand on the gas anyway. The broken glass and bits of plastic bodywork littering the area shows how successful that is.

  5. Trust levels, and whether the trust levels are valid.

    Steve hasn’t been wrong to cite evidence of fundamental underpinnings having been broken for some time.

    Yes, some American behavior doesn’t change, based on behavior of other Americans. Some stuff, is individually chosen, and sustained by individual will.

    There is/was also a web of reciprocal deals, peace and such, that approximated a continuum, and was really nice. Some people who considered themselves very clever decided that they could game things, as if it was as a continuum invariant, or a simple set of rules rigidly obeyed.

    This was never a country ruled by force alone. Trust and consent have done a lot. These supreme geniuses have abandoned trust and consent for force alone.

    • A good summation of current affairs.
      I believe it’ll soon become obvious that this country can’t be ruled by force alone.
      The same people believe they can change one part of society and bor affect the whole; they are mistaken there too, as I suspect will soon be all to clear to everybody.

    • My daughter and I have noted the higher incidences of what we call ‘third world driving” where we live – all kinds of careless disregard to signals, signs and general courtesy.

  6. We used to go to Starlight Theater, an outdoor theater in Kansas City. When leaving after the show there was an intersection where to streams of traffic had to merge. I always marveled at the way drivers took turns merging. No police enforcement, just drivers being fair.
    Drivers will adjust their speed so others can merge into traffic. Cars will leave a gap when stopped at a light so someone can pull out of a parking lot…and they are still doing things like this. (I always hated going to Memphis…not courteous at all.)

  7. Yep, the loss of civility is accelerating and has been over the last decade due to the reduction in enforcement and the lack of ‘attention’ to actually driving as people text, talk, or whatever while driving.

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