I’m convinced the quality of driving, and drivers, in America is going steadily downhill, and our roads are becoming more dangerous. The best evidence of that reality is found at any intersection in any American city with a traffic light.
If you take a moment to watch the traffic light at an intersection go through its signal progression and observe the actions of drivers in response — as I do every day on my walks to and from the office — you’ll immediately notice three things. First, almost nobody stops when the light turns yellow. Instead, the amber caution light now is viewed as an invitation to speed up, so that three or four or five more speeding cars can go careening through the intersection. Second, at least one car, and sometimes two, will rip through the intersection on the red light, apparently banking on the hope that the cars on the crossing street, and any pedestrians trying to cross the street, won’t have moved into the intersection by then. And third, cars turning right at the intersection don’t actually stop at the red light. Instead, they’ll roll right into the crosswalk and move immediately into their turns, not stopping unless there’s a car approaching from the left. It’s not the traffic signal, but instead the oncoming traffic, that affects their behavior.
This is a significant change from when I started driving, and you were trained to stop when the yellow light appeared. If you took somebody fresh from a ’70s-era drivers’ education course and put them on a modern city street, they’d probably get rear-ended and cause a multi-car pileup because the drivers behind would be expecting them to speed up on yellow, just like everybody else seems to do. And, of course, running a red light was a sure way to get a ticket in those days. But now no police officers seem to be writing tickets for red-light runners, and efforts by cities to enforce the red-light rules through intersection camera set-ups has been mired in corruption claims and technological issues. So people feel free to run the red lights, and probably will continue to do so until they get into an accident, hit a pedestrian or a cyclist, or get a ticket.
I wish city police departments would devote more resources to in-city enforcement of traffic laws so that as many officers are looking for urban red-light runners as are looking for speeders on the nation’s highways. And who knows? Maybe when the technological glitches get ironed out, self-driving cars will actually make the streets safer. But right now, it’s dangerous out there, and it seems to be getting worse.