Stupid Stop Lights & Drivers

by Richard Rogers at
May 14, 1996

As a student at Duke Law School I go back and forth from Durham to Chapel Hill a lot since there is almost NOTHING to do in Durham if the Bulls aren't playing. Whoever set up the traffic lights here is incompetent: when I turn left out of my apartment, I inevitably will have to stop at five consecutive red lights in the space of 1.5 miles. (OK, stopping at the light in front of the hospitals doesn't rile me too much since it probably should favor hospital traffic, but why shouldn't the other lights be synchronized?)

So after it takes me 10 minutes to go 1.5 miles despite light traffic, I have to decide whether to take the highway or the two- lane back road to get over to Chapel Hill some 10 miles down the road. The speed limit is 55 on the highway in Durham County except for a stretch of car dealers where it is 45, but you wouldn't know it: on the limited-access part of the highway everybody drives 65 (which is FINE with me), but then you hit the 45-mph stretch and the NOTORIOUS light in front of Darryl's Restaurant. The whole Triangle area knows about this light. Hit it during rush hour and it will take 20 minutes to get through. Try to go to a concert at UNC and it will take a half-hour. One damn light.

Then you get through the light and the speed limit goes back up to 55. But does traffic? OH, NO, why would you go an absurdly slow 55 when you can go ***40***? I SWEAR these people must think a "5" looks like a "4" on the speed limit sign. And radar detectors are legal here (I don't have one since I am from Virginia) so you'd think they'd go at least the minimum--er, make that the speed limit. They must be anticipating where the limit drops back down to 45 after you get to Chapel Hill five miles down the road.

So because of this, I usually take the two-lane back road instead of the highway; it's a longer drive, but it's a nicer road and as long as you don't get stuck behind a) a local; b) a minivan; or c) a dump truck you are fine. (Of course the chances of getting stuck behind one or all of these is better than 60%.) The amazing thing is that even though the speed limit is 45, people will often go 50-55: an absolutely stunning event for local drivers when not on the interstate!

So what's my beef about the back road? Well, last night (5-13-96) is a case in point. I was going to Chapel Hill to go to the movies and see the burned-out FIJI house. I turn onto the back road and start down the road. I hit the first curve--it's a twisty, fun road--and I nearly have to drive into the ditch to avoid the string of a dump truck and four local cars coming around the curve half- way onto my side of the double yellow line. Ouch. This happens all the way down the road until I get to Chapel Hill and it widens out. Dammit people, if I wanted to drive in the ditch, I'd buy a jeep!

I SWEAR a requirement for a North Carolina driver's license must be "Thou Shalt Not drive on thy own side of the line" because this happens wherever there's a curve in a road. Other unusual requirements must be "Thou Shalt Consider the Brake Pedal to be the accelerator" and "Thou Shalt Forget to turn on thy Lights at night." Man, I thought the old people in Charlottesville were lousy drivers, but at least they were just slow. Triangle drivers take the cake.

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