Monday, May 16, 2011

When A Rule Fails

Last week I talked about the way I think certain manners regarding food are absurd. However, those that know me know that I am a heavy rules follower. In my presentations I state that rules of the road are almost sacred and one should always, ALWAYS use their turn signal when changing lanes. My will, and love of rules, was tested last Thursday night.

On the way to the movie theater to view Wretches and Jabberers I noticed a line of cars backed up at the stop light that turns onto Baptist Church Road which is the road the theater is on. I was planning on being 15 minutes early, but the line of cars seemed to be moving at about one car per light cycle. At first I thought there must be an accident because the road rises towards the light and I could no see the intersection or turn light.

Slowly, painfully slow actually, I got closer and closer to the light. I saw no ambulances and no police cars so the back up of cars became mysterious. I could see the forward stop light and it was going green, however, my turn lane kept still. Every so often 2-3 cars would go through and eventually I got within five cars of the intersection.

From this point on I could see the light and I thought I was mistaken because the forward light would go green, but the turn light stayed red. Then, when the forward light went red the turn light stayed red. Never once did the turn light go green. The pedestrian light would change, but the turn light was red. What we had here was a rare occurrence of a malfunctioning light. Panic set in.

In this instance what is the right course of action? Cars started blaring their horns and all in all drivers were becoming irate. Whenever a car decided to break the rule of the red light the car behind would follow. It was all up to the 1st car in line to break that rule and time and time again it would take several light cycles before the first car's driver would make that decision to break the rule, but in this instance is it breaking the rule?

The light obviously was broken, but going through the red light at this intersection is dangerous due to the up slope of the road, and the thick stop light pole. Signs clearly state, "Left on green arrow only." Car after car went through and I was now the 2nd car in line. Soon, it would be my option. Would I wait the light out, or would I go through and willfully break a rule that is 100x more sacred than changing lanes with a turn signal? I still didn't know what I would do.

The driver in front of me began to panic. The driver behind me was having a major temper tantrum slamming the steering wheel and raising his hands as if to say, "Go you idiot, it's broke!" Cars behind started honking so the driver in front of me decided he was not going to break the rule and darted from the turn lane to the forward lanes. This sounds like a good way to avoid breaking the rules, but he did so with no turn signal and just about got rear ended by a big pick up truck that the driver didn't see, perhaps due to the stress of this odd situation.

Okay, so I saw what not to do. I was now the first car in line and it was my option. All lights on my side were red and there was a decent line of cars coming the other way. The light went green and those cars passed. Almost a quarter hour had passed since I got to the intersection of Gravois and Baptist Church and only one thing was separating me from the theater and that was rules. Red lights are important, and when I am at a race track there is no more important thing than to stop. When I race directed I stressed to drivers of all ages that when the red flag is out you stop. The rule is rigid, it's set in stone, it's pure and yet here I was considering breaking the rule.

I could see the driver behind me getting angrier so I decided to do it. I was going to live on the other side of the law. Would I be a public enemy? I didn't know, but I knew I wasn't going to be late and I was able to judge that no cars were coming so I did it. I broke the rule and made my way to the theater.

Since this event I have debated whether or not I actually broke the rules. If the rules are broken do they still apply? It's one thing to go through a yellow, or to unknowingly run a stop sign, but to make that conscious decision to go through a red is another thing. However, the situation was different and unique. Had I not broken the rule and stayed there, well, I'm sure I'd be quite hungry right now because I'd still be there waiting for the green.

Moving forward I will continue to talk about my love of rules and in my presentations I will still talk about my love of the turn signal. However, there will be a side of me I won't share and that is the day I decided to disregard the rules because the rules, on that day, experienced a failure.


  1. Wow, a malfunctioning traffic light; that's a rarity. I don't think you broke any rules whatsoever. The light is broken and there was nothing you could do. Treat the light as if it were working and go when the coast is clear.

  2. I love rules in general too, because they make things go orderly and prevent things going wrong. They're there for a reason and without obliging to them, chaos can follow.
    However! There are always unique situations and rules do not always calculate in these situations. If you THEN go by the rules, it might actually turn against you. Then following the rule doesn't prevent chaos, but creates it. This is where the rule doesn't apply anymore in my opinion.
    Like I said, the rules (and thus the law) have been created to keep everything organised and everyone safe. Things will not go organised and safely, had you decided to just keep standing there. So had a police officer been standing there, he would probably even TELL you to get your car moving when you could, because you would've been obstructing the whole traffic flow, making it a dangerous situation and one full of chaos.
    So in my opinion (and probably the opinion of any officer too) no rules have been broken.

  3. I see that a good bit in LA. You have to look around for clues- like what you do normally in driving. Of course, this is an instance where you don't want to be the first one. But, if you don't know what to do, then go by what the cars ahead or beside you do. That said, signs are important, too. I had seen a few instances where some drivers made a crucial mistake of "no turn on red" and the traffic light was perfectly functional. So, what I do the situation is- see if there are anything out of ordinary. Then, I will see what the drivers around me do. Afterward, then I will evaluate whether what they do makes sense.

  4. I was in a similar pickle at a red arrow...but with a fire truck blaring behind me. I nearly panicked, but then I figured ALL other traffic were stopped to let the emergency vehicle through, and I was the only hold up. So I went through and moved to the side for it to pass. Hopefully it got to the fire on time!