More Traffic

בקטגוריות: Uncategorized

16 Oct 2006

There are two distinct differences in how the US traffic system treats traffic lights. The first is the Right Turn – to avoid having to build those little right-turn lanes that we have in Israel, the law states that you are simply allowed to turn right at any intersection even on a red light – unless specifically forbidden.

Another aspect of American traffic is that when traffic is flowing in both directions on the road, you stll have a green light to make a left turn through the oncoming traffic – yes, you have to wait until it thins down and make a mad dash over to the other side. Sometimes you get an exclusive left turn with its own signal, but often you simply have to make the best of it.

I’m not going to go into the practical aspects of this – whether it promotes less traffic jams and simpler roads. Instead, I keep thinking about the more conceptual aspects.

What does a red light really mean? For Israelis, a red light is a very absolute signal. It means STOP. Capitalized.  Even in boldface. There’s no two ways about it – you got a red light, you stop. There are no extenuating circumstances or special occasions or specific exceptions. Red light means stop. End of story.
Similarly a green light – when you have a green light, you can drive freely. You still have to pay attention for rogue drivers, of course. You may still have to give right of way to pedestrians on a right turn. But you know that as far as the road is concerned, it’s YOURS right now. 

But on American roads, these two absolutes are dissolved. A red light is a red light, EXCEPT for a right turn. A green light gives you right of way, EXCEPT for a left turn. Nothing is certain. Nothing is absolute. How can you use the red light as a metaphor for blocking when it carries with it an intrinsic exception? It’s as if you’re trained to think of every law as having a loophole, every prohibition as inherently bypassable. Imagine a a boss calling his worker and telling him he has a green light for the new project – does that mean he can go full steam ahead? But the analogy is flawed – do I need to make sure there’s no incoming traffic on my project’s schedule? Am I steering my project to the left? What does that actually mean?

Yes, I know, I’m getting far too worked up about symbols that ARE universally understood, and all the undermining of authority that I perceive here does not diminis from these symbols’ strength. But still, it offends my delicate sensibilites.

2 תגובות על More Traffic



16 בOctober, 2006 בשעה 08:41

Oh, I had such a difficult time getting used to that in Canada. I always forgot that I can take turns through a red light, and the Canadian drivers are too kind to honk their horns and remind me. And it took me so long to figure out what that blinking green light means – at first, I thought it’s the same as the Israeli blinking green light, and couldn’t understand what’s the use of it blinking so many times before it goes, oh, wait, full green? What?



16 בOctober, 2006 בשעה 21:54

Another way to go

Me’tinks they have enough sports analogies to live without the trafic lights.

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