Vigilante traffic cop

Anybody else feel like they sometimes need to provide a little ad hoc law enforcement?

We live on a dead-end street, the entrance to which is a three-way intersection. It’s a three-way stop with signs clearly visible. Coming from one direction, our street is completely hidden by a high bank on the corner. We’re also in the Seattle area where it’s been known to rain now and then, and where it currently starts getting dark around 4:00 PM.

I can see that intersection from the kitchen table, and I’m amazed at how many cars sail right through it without even slowing down. Some of this may be an attempt to get around traffic caused by other cars unloading from the nearby ferry dock. But those of us who insist on driving are creating traffic problems. Period. Isn’t it arrogant for us to think we could not/should not be slowed down by traffic problems we help to create? But I digress.

After calling the police a couple of months ago, I eventually saw one patrol car on one occasion issue one citation to one driver – a neighbor. (I have to confess that at that moment I rejoiced in my neighbor’s misfortune, though I later had to repent of it.) Haven’t seen any police presence since.

A handful of school-age kids lives on our street, including two of the world’s Truly Great Kids who live at our house. I can’t bear to think about a negligent driver causing an accident that might harm any of them.

Working at the kitchen table a couple of days ago during the enormous rainstorm that made national news, I watched one car after another blow through the stop signs. It was dark. Streets were not just wet: a small stream of runoff had turned into a river cascading down the hill and flowing over the road. What were the chances someone would be able to stop quickly for a pedestrian or the sudden appearance of another car? It was time for action.

Quickly donning a rain jacket and boots, I grabbed my trusty Radio Shack bullhorn and headed down the hill. Found a little perch on the corner bank under some trees, and turned the volume on the bullhorn all the way up. Didn’t have to wait long for the first car.

“THAT’S A STOP SIGN!” I shouted into the mike. A driver looked in my direction but the car didn’t slow down. Another car slowed slightly before accelerating through the intersection. “THAT’S A STOP SIGN!” No response. In 30 minutes I made my announcement more than 30 times. A couple of cars stopped like they were going to come back but didn’t. One woman in the passenger seat turned a very startled face toward me. Music in some cars was so loud that nothing could be heard over it. Several drivers appeared to be paying more attention to their cell phone conversations than to the dangerous driving conditions. One talented driver rolled through the intersection while simultaneously managing to open his door and toss out an empty Doritos bag. He was driving an SUV.

I recognized our next door neighbor’s car as he stopped at the intersection. He and his Dad pulled up in front of me and asked if the rain had pushed me over the edge. During the explanation of my mission I bullhorned two more drivers so my neighbors could see me in action.

* * * * * *

Did I accomplish anything?

  1. Perhaps one or two of the bullhorned drivers will think twice next time they approach our intersection. Perhaps not.
  2. Felt a little better for having done something in response to my frustration.
  3. Got to thinking about what a selfish thing driving can be:
  • How much of it is about my own convenience;
  • How my warm, dry, comfortable cocoon of a car insulates me from considering the needs of others;
  • How being in a car makes it easy for me to feel powerful and above the law, and makes it easy for me to break the law;
  • How willing I am to consume the resources necessary to support my driving habits.

All in all, it wasn’t a complete waste of time – or so I’m telling myself. I will call the police again today to see if we can get some real help at that intersection. In the meantime, I suppose I should surrender my vigilante badge – for now.

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