When right of way is due, selective blindness often occurs

TRAFFIC TALK

February 10, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WE CAN be staring straight at vehicles in an intersection and still not yield due right of way. This selective blindness is especially problematic at one intersection in Ellicott City, on Route 103 at Old Columbia Pike, according to Scott Chapman, who works at the fire station there.

"Vehicles don't yield the right of way when making left turns off Old Columbia Pike onto eastbound [Route 103]," he said. "People don't think they have to yield because the firehouse parking lot is directly across from them. However, when leaving the firehouse, we also have a green light. I find it amusing that when I drive a fire engine across [Route 103] onto Old Columbia Pike, people yield. But when I leave work in my personal vehicle, turning right onto Route 103, that figure drops to about half."

People yield in part, he believes, because they are "afraid of the big red fire engine."

He wonders whether a "left turn yield on green" sign would help. "Having two cars converge in the same direction (often to the same lane) from different sides of an intersection is nothing more than a recipe for disaster. If I have green when making a right or going straight, I don't want to worry about someone coming at me from the opposite direction. A `yield on green' sign along with fresh pavement paint may help the situation."

According to John Concannon, assistant district engineer of traffic for Howard, Frederick and Carroll counties for the State Highway Administration, Mr. Chapman should not expect any changes in signage at the intersection.

"We have encountered similar instances where a higher-volume road such as Old Columbia Pike is opposite a lower-volume street or driveway, like the firehouse. Daily commuters on the higher-volume approach rarely encounter an opposing vehicle on the driveway," he explained.

"When an opposing vehicle enters from the lower-volume approach, it creates an unexpected condition for the driver on the higher-volume approach. The reason drivers yield to the firetruck and not to other vehicles exiting the driveway is that the firetruck commands attention," he said. "There is not a sign that can be installed that will command the same level of attention as the firetruck."

Options such as the use of a "left turn yield on green" sign is used when an approach has a left-turn signal indication. But the Old Columbia Pike approach does not have a left-turn signal, "nor is it warranted," Concannon said. "We believe the current operation is safe and is the most efficient at this time."

Clear it all off

Here is a request for drivers who overlook the importance of the tops of their vehicles. "As well as removing the snow and ice from your windshields and windows, please try to remove as much snow and ice as possible from the roofs of your vehicles," wrote Marc LeGoff in an e-mail message last week.

"Nothing is more startling than following a truck, SUV or van on the highway and having a huge 3- to 4-foot sheet of snow break off and land smack in your windshield. It's understandable that drivers of tractor trailers and box trucks probably can't reach the tops of their vehicles to clear off the snow and ice. But drivers of SUVs, vans and cars can surely attempt to do so if they take an extra little time before setting out," he said.

I usually don't defend SUV drivers, but they're not the only ones not cleaning off their roofs. I've seen plenty of car owners with snowcaps.

And finally, last week's gas-saving recommendation to trade in gas-guzzling SUVs for MINI Coopers prompted two comments I couldn't ignore.

Randall Bradford wrote in an e-mail message, "You've done it again. Casting SUVs as the demons of the automobile world just ain't makin' it. Making and selling SUVs, as with the entire economy of the United States, is all about market forces. If the public wants a product, it will be produced and sold. If they don't want it, it won't be produced. Why do you think that more auto companies are making SUVs than ever?"

Just because a whole lot of people want to do something silly doesn't make it a good idea. SUVs, however popular, are driving this country in the wrong direction. We should be looking for vehicles that reduce our dependence on (foreign) oil, not increase it.

Nevermind, that's what Alaska is for.

And from Marilyn Mix: "A MINI Cooper is indeed cool, but its mpg is only 24 [city] 33 [highway]. Equally cool is the 5-passenger Toyota Prius at up to 60 mpg (my current average is 45 mpg). Another plus for this [car] is the low emissions, also better than any SUV."

I see more and more hybrid cars on the roads, and I applaud the trend. When we get ready to replace our sedan, it will be with a hybrid vehicle.

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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