Wipers on, headlights on -- it's the law

TRAFFIC TALK

November 18, 2003|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AFTER SO many rainy days this year, some of Maryland's motoring masses still haven't clued into one of Maryland's most basic -- and most visible -- traffic laws. Bob Brown has noticed his share of clueless motorists, as have a half-dozen other readers.

"What is the rule for having your headlights on if your windshield wipers are on? I have a hard time seeing cars in my rearview mirror when it is raining, especially if they don't have their lights on. I thought it was a law that if your windshield wipers were working that you had to have your lights on. Is this true or just another of those `no driving in bare feet' myths?," Mr. Brown asked.

I don't know about not driving in bare feet (that's one of the joys of summer driving), but the headlights rule is simple and to the point, so let's remember it, folks. If your windshield wipers are on, your headlights should be on.

Since we're on the general topic of Maryland's moronic motoring masses, here are some questions Brian McAllister asked recently about contradictory behavior he has noticed while commuting: "Isn't it ironic that 99 percent of the drivers that you let merge in front of you will not let anyone else merge in front of them? And why do motorcycle drivers and bicycle riders think it is OK to go down the center of backed up traffic lanes, but then always moan and groan about their traffic rights being violated by motorists? You can't have it both ways!"

Charlie Jennings also has noticed some aberrant driving behavior. "There must be a large number of accidents arising from the ignorance of drivers merging (or turning) onto a road where the speed limit differs, often by 10 to 20 mph, from the road they just left," he said in a recent e-mail. "Two cars, both thinking they are [correct] driving at different speeds can be scary."

He noted some locations in Howard County where this situation might occur. "The left-lane merge from Route 32 eastbound onto Interstate 95 northbound -- anybody pulling into the left lane of I-95 at 55 mph will die!," he said. "Similarly, merging from Route 32 westbound onto Cedar Lane northbound has people [used to traveling 55 mph] merging onto a 35-mph road, with both parties often changing lanes on that same stretch."

The problem is not limited to Howard County. Mr. Jennings offered examples where drivers are not informed for at least a mile as to a change in the speed limit elsewhere in the area. "Try merging from I-895 north/east (depending on the signs you read) onto I-95 north. Cars correctly traveling at 50 mph on I-895 merge into the left lane of I-95, where law-abiding drivers are going 55 mph -- no speed limit signs exist until after passing beyond the Beltway. Of course, most of the drivers are going 70 mph anyway."

He then suggests a relatively simple solution. "Could authorities put signs on ramps informing the uninformed as to the speed limit to be anticipated?" he wondered.

Now back to last week's column, which discussed tolls on roads north of the District of Columbia. Tolls shift your gears like few other issues, I've noticed. I received many vehement e-mail messages raging about drivers being ripped off by states that charge tolls on interstate highways. Delaware, predictably, drew the most ire, but Maryland came under fire, as well. Few of these comments were printable, but I remain grateful to Terry Jamro, who sent me comments I could run.

"The Highway Revenue Act of 1956 created the Highway Trust Fund as a dedicated source for the interstate system. Interstate highways built before 1956 were usually turnpikes because there was no other revenue source," he said. And just to be helpful, he provided an Internet address for the U.S. Department of Transportation web site that provides more information about this issue: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/programadmin/interstate.html.

Information from that site indicates that revenue from the federal gas and other motor-vehicle user taxes, such as tolls, was credited to the Highway Trust Fund to pay the federal share of interstate and all other federal-aid highway projects. In this way, the act guaranteed construction of all segments on a "pay-as-you-go" basis, thus satisfying one of President Eisenhower's primary requirements, namely that the program be self-financing without contributing to the federal budget deficit.

Too bad today's politicians can't be so careful about the federal deficit.

"Now all we have to do is remove these toll booths because the initial bonds were paid for years ago," Mr. Jamro said. "Connecticut and Virginia removed their tolls on I-95. Now other states should do it, too."

Amen to that. But it is my impression that instead of removing booths, states may raise tolls.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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