Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every Monday at 2pm on Claycord.com.
TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This Claycord.com column is for everyone who negotiates the highways and public transit of the Bay Area. It runs every Monday at 2pm and answers your commuting and transportation questions.
Email your questions to email@example.com.
COMMUTER: I have a question regarding those new merging stoplights onto the freeway. There is one on-ramp where I get on and then get off, never entering the freeway. As these lights are for regulating the freeway traffic, I think I should be allowed to disregard and just go through. What’s the law?
–Merging Freeway Signs
TRAFFIC JAMMER: MFS, the short answer is that you can’t go through. The Jammer is glad you asked the question, because there are probably many others in your situation. It is conscientious of you to be concerned. Now, our pal, Officer Daniel Hill of the California Highway Patrol, has kindly contributed some interesting detail about this law and how it operates, especially with regard to this situation:
“Regardless of the intentions of the motorist, it is always unlawful, and also a dangerous idea to disregard a traffic signal. Disobeying a traffic signal, regardless of the location, will carry with it the same (extremely large) fine and point value.
Though the traffic signal may appear to simply be metering traffic, it is also possible the signal is regulating other merging traffic or maintaining traffic flow on the off-ramp. More importantly, the majority of those signals are placed at locations where two or more lanes merge into one after the limit line. By disregarding this signal, the motorist runs the risk of causing a collision.
In any case, traffic signals that are serving as metering lights usually only cause a delay of no more than ten seconds to a motorist’s journey. By running the signal, you would only be saving a scant few seconds, and would be running the risk of delaying your journey because of a traffic stop, or even worse, a collision.
We encourage all motorists to obey the laws and drive safely. One person’s inconvenience is not reason enough to jeopardize other motorists’ safety.”
COMMUTER: Five days a week I drive to work from Benicia to a medical office off Highway 4, and five days a week I am almost driven to madness by the imbecilic drivers on my commute. Lumbering trucks going 35 mph on the upgrades and drivers behind them who don’t know enough to change lanes before it’s too late, and worst of all, drivers who must be on crack meandering along at 55 mph in the left lane.
–Drive Right, Stay Right
TRAFFIC JAMMER: DRSR, you’re touching on an issue that is a sore spot for many – slow drivers in the left lane, or, for that matter, drivers who take up residency there for long periods of time. It’s surprising how many people don’t know that in California, it is against the law to occupy that left lane, also known as the passing lane.
“Upon all highways, a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway,” thus speaketh Section 21650 of the Vehicle Code.
Yes, you can actually get a ticket for hanging out interminably in the left lane. Of course, there are exceptions to this commandment, which are also set out in this section: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc21650.htm. Obviously, you’re allowed to leave the right-hand lane when passing another vehicle, making a left turn, and so forth.
It’s understandable that you would feel frustrated, especially if it happens every time you drive to work, DRSR. Is there a way you can vary your route, so you don’t have to deal with this every morning? Even if this consigns you to more surface streets than usual, at least it would change up the routine. The Jammer doesn’t know where you live in Benicia or where this doctor’s office is, but depending on those factors, you could possibly get on Interstate 780 eastbound instead of taking Interstate 80 to Highway 4, for example.
COMMUTER: What is the best way to handle an unexpected obstruction in the road – a box that fell off a truck or, God forbid, an animal? If you don’t have time to check the lane next to you, should you swerve and risk hitting a vehicle next to you, or suck it up and hit the item?
–Swerve or Stay?
TRAFFIC JAMMER: This is a brilliant question that will be useful to all of us, SOS, so thanks for asking. The Jammer turned to our resident Claycordian law enforcement officer, who supplied an answer that should help us all avoid this painful dilemma in the first place:
“OK, so the first rule of accident avoidance is pre-planning. You really shouldn’t have to check the lanes around you because you should have a sense of the vehicles around you.
Furthermore, if you are in traffic, you should have a plan. I call it the “what if game”. What if the car (in front or alongside me) has a wheel fall off? What if the car in front of me has a catastrophic mechanical failure that causes it to drop fluid and suddenly slow down? Where do I go? What do I do?
If you pre-plan, then you are less likely to panic because you’re already experienced the scenario or a similar one in your head.
I consulted with another professional driver on your question to see if my instincts were right. He drives a fuel tanker.
The consensus is don’t swerve. So much can happen if you serve and you don’t have training, that the jerking motion can throw off even the most savvy drivers.
Of course, there are so many variables in this question: What type and size is the road hazard? What type of roadway are you on? How fast are you going?
I know it’s generally safer (although disconcerting) to hit animals rather than swerve. [Let loose the deer and moose stories - for those who don't know, these animals are known to cause tremendous damage]. The unknown box and bags have inherent risks. So, generally, the advice is maintain your lane and prepare for impact.
From a law enforcement standpoint, there are guidelines for collision reporting. You generally won’t be found at fault for hitting an animal because they’re not supposed to be expected in the roadway. Again, depending on the circumstances, the same is true for debris. However, I can anticipate finding a driver at fault for swerving and colliding with or causing a chain-reaction of swerves and braking.
Again, I encourage slowing down.”
TRAFFIC JAMMER: Big thanks for this helpful answer! And while we’re on this topic – Claycordians, this officer, who answers the questions anonymously, is getting to be a regular contributor. Let’s figure out a nickname specifically for use in this column! For example, since he is a Law Enforcement Officer, we could call him “Leo.” Or, what would you suggest?
You all named this column by submitting suggestions from which the Jammer and our beloved Mayor selected the current name. Now, got any suggestions for a sobriquet for our helpful local Claycord officer? Just post in the comment box or send to firstname.lastname@example.org by Saturday. The winning entry gets a transportation-oriented prize!
TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s it for this week – see you next Monday. Be sure to cruise by Claycord.com at 2pm for more traffic intelligence. Remember, whether you drive, walk, bike or hop Amtrak, BART or AC Transit, Traffic Jammer Janis Mara is here to answer your questions.
Send your questions to email@example.com