Exactly when did it become kosher to run red lights?
I don’t mean yellow-then-red lights, and I’m not talking about oh-shit-I-just-ran-a-red-light red lights. I’m speaking of fat, juicy, vine-ripened, red-for-at-least-one-Mississippi red lights.
A few years back Margaret and I took a trip to the DC area. We were horrified to discover that people there seemed to run stoplights of any color they pleased. It was as though some horrible cone-eating parasite had attacked the Eastern Seaboard and was quickly rendering everyone color blind. We really enjoyed our vacation, but were more than a little relieved to get back to the relative peace and sanity of the Great Northwest.
Sadly, nothing lasts forever. Nothing good, anyway. The plague has swept westward, borne perhaps by citizens fleeing to less blighted areas of the country. I’d like to think these hapless vectors know not what they carry….but I can’t help wondering how many stoplights they ran on their way here.
I recently brought this up at a party, and a friend with the Seattle Police Department told me that the phrase for this in Cop Speak is “DWA”, or “Driving While Asian”. He said that the vast majority of cars stopped for this infraction are driven by Asian males, apparently first-generation immigrants. The presumption being that, where these drivers originate, the strictures of traffic lights are largely ignored—if, in fact, the lights exist at all.
I won’t presume to second-guess the Seattle PD on this, but if this is indeed a condition of Asian immigrants, it is a communicable one, and has been passed along to the gwailo with lightning speed.
The average driver I witness running a red these days is….hell, there is no average type. It’s everybody: pimple-encrusted teenagers in tricked-out Celicas, soccer moms in Dodge Caravans, twenty-somethings in Toyota 4Runners….every possible combination of race, gender and automobile. The only trait they all share—short of their criminally antisocial tendencies—is the look on their faces as they do it. Eyes locked straight ahead, staring with great intensity at a point some fifty or sixty yards distant. The message is clear: don’t honk your horn, don’t offer me a finger by way of greeting, it won’t do any good. I am simply too absorbed in my very important task at hand to respond to or acknowledge in any way your anger, your rights, your very existence.
If there is any single factor that I feel might give rise to a fascist government in the United States (okay, okay, a more fascist government), it is the increasing lack of simple regard for one’s fellow human beings. In the last few years, I have begun seeing this general disregard for others creep into more and more facets of life. The folks who let trash blow from overspilling cans all over the street. The people releasing their pack of dogs in the morning, to roam the neighborhood, shit in other people’s yards and take down the occasional jogger. The motorists who would rather lay on their horn in a crowded parking lot, scaring everyone around them to death, than stop to let someone back out of a stall.
“Less government” types often say that it’s wrongheaded to use legislation to try to control human behavior (of course, they tend to say that in regards to things like compulsory recycling and carpool lanes, not recreational drug use or gay marriage). Personally, I’d have to say that my own leanings are towards more rather than fewer restrictions. From smoking bans to leash laws, I love the idea of rewarding people for the good that they do and punishing them for being assholes.
And sure, it would be great if we could count on individuals or even communities to enforce the social contract for their constituents. But no one feels they have the authority to do this any more, and in more than a few cases they probably don’t feel that they have the firepower. Who wants to risk their safety in order to try and revitalize someone’s sense of civic obligation? Someone who casually runs a red light based on the rationale that most people will be observant enough to not proceed into the intersection just because it’s their turn probably does not have a really high regard for the welfare of others. Who’s to say that same person might not pull out a gun and blow your head off, rather than undergo the potential delay and discomfort of stopping to receive your redress?
There’s just never a jack-booted government thug around when you need one.