Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Utility Trucks & Debris on the Freeway, Dash-Cams + MUCH MORE

May 19, 2014 14:00 pm · 42 comments

Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every Monday at 2pm on

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This 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

COMMUTER: When are the signal changes you mentioned a few weeks ago going into effect along Treat Blvd? Nothing yet and at 5:30 a.m. when you get stopped at a red light when NOBODY is around, it’s really, really annoying.

Specifically, this happens at the intersection of Cowell Road and Treat Boulevard. The light will turn red for treat travelers even when nobody is there on Cowell. Why doesn’t Treat stay green until someone comes up on Cowell to trigger it?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: The Jammer checked with Concord Traffic Czar Ray Kuzbari, and here’s what he said:

“The reader is correct when it comes to Cowell Road. The problem is that vehicle detection on Cowell Road at Treat Boulevard needs to be upgraded so that the green light is not constantly recycling for Cowell Road even when there are no vehicles on this street. We apologize for the inconvenience. We do plan to install additional detector loops in the pavement this year (2014) so that the light stays green on Treat Blvd until a vehicle pulls up on Cowell Road.”

COMMUTER: When I see large utility-type trucks with white and orange checkered flags on the freeway (usually Interstate 880), I usually know to stay clear of them due to the debris they purge all over the freeway.  This might be a semi with a large cargo bin with no cover that allows out dirt, sand or other debris on the freeway, or maybe a cement truck that dumps partially hardened cement or even some other kind of utility truck that will throw out dirt clod clumps and rocks all over the road. 

The only thing I can think of is that white checkered flag somehow gives these vehicles permission to dump all the debris onto the freeway at will; potentially damaging other vehicles on the road.  What can you or your experts say about all this?  Signed, Captain Freeway – with sand in my eyes and chips and dents in my car and always watching out for Gap Shooters!

–Captain Freeway

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Ah, Captain Freeway, Vehicle Code Section 23112(b) says, “No person shall place, deposit or dump, or cause to be placed, deposited or dumped, any rocks, refuse, garbage, or dirt in or upon any highway” without official consent. The Jammer doesn’t know what the orange checkered flag signifies (unless it’s from an airfield, which seems unlikely) but it’s not going to override this vehicle code section. Claycordians, got any idea what the flag signifies?

Tangential to this question is the Jammer’s very favorite part of the Vehicle Code, the Paul Buzzo Act. It’s the section of the Vehicle Code that forbids throwing burning cigarettes and similar things out of the car.

COMMUTER: I’m considering getting a camera to record my road trips and the best place to mount it is inside the windshield via a suction cup mount. I don’t want to mount it externally. I realize that you can only mount a GPS in either of the lower corners of the windshield.

If I mount it near the upper center of the windshield to the right of the rear view mirror, it will be perfectly placed for the photography, and it will not obstruct my vision due to it being in the windshield area where the forward view is blocked by the rear view mirror. Sounds like a win-win, but is it legal?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Clearly this was a case for our beloved Claycord Officer Leo. Here’s what he had to say:

“The commuting public of Claycord lives in the technical spaces of the vehicle code!

Mounting a camera: Section 26708 of the Vehicle Code covers windshields. Short answer, no – it’s not legal. “Any object” mounted is only allowable in the bottom corners. This section covers a myriad of exceptions, but the reader’s camera doesn’t apply.

Vehicles are designed to be in accordance with the laws (notably California laws as we seem to have the most).  Then, they add performance and/ or luxury.  After that, it’s driver beware.”

COMMUTER: Because people are crazy in parking lots, I back out very slowly. Even still, it seems that half the time some impatient driver whizzes behind me as I am backing out.

Lately, there have been a few very close calls, especially in the disaster that is the Pleasant Hill Target parking lot. My question is, if I am backing out at a reasonable speed, and someone still decides to go to behind me, whose fault is it if there is a collision?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Good point, Greg. The Jammer was backing very slowly out of a spot in front of Safeway a few days ago and someone walked right behind her. Still makes me shake when I think about it. Here are Officer Leo’s thoughts:

“Parking lots. If people only appreciated how much design really goes into them. If they just slowed down and gave equal consideration to their fellow drivers. Ah well, in the meantime…

The Vehicle Code generally doesn’t apply in most parking lots. As usual, there are exceptions to make the rule. That being said, even the most prudent backer-upper will probably be at fault in a collision. Consider: you, as the backer, are moving against the flow. Obviously, if someone is backing and has made notable progress, it’s common courtesy and sense to let the person out.”

TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s it for this week – see you next Monday. Be sure to cruise by 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

1 concordkiwi May 19, 2014 at 2:08 PM

“Obviously, if someone is backing and has made notable progress, it’s common courtesy and sense to let the person out.”

That isn’t going to happen when some drivers consider that they are still on the freeway, not in a parking lot.

2 Anon May 19, 2014 at 2:31 PM

Sorry, But a V1000GS dashcam mounts Perfectly behind the rearview mirror and blends in with the mirror – it actually looks like a headlight sensor (some 80’s – 90’s Fords had these sensors for automatically dimming your brights when sensing an oncoming vehicle). If they want to split hairs – then buy a rearview mirror with a camera built in.

3 BreakingJen May 19, 2014 at 2:34 PM

A few weeks ago you clarified that it is illegal to enter an intersection on a green light while knowing your will not make it through. With that been the case, is it possible to get Pleasant Hill Police to sit at the Monument Blvd exit off 680 SB and ticket drivers from 3pm to 4pm? Every day, including weekends, drivers will take the green light knowing they cannot make it through the intersection. They block half the extremely large intersection, causing those turning from Monument onto 680NB to miss several lights and leading to an even larger mess. I have seen so many near collisions I am surprised there aren’t daily fender-benders happening. As a resident who lives within one block of this light/intersection I can tell you it’s mad house, is there anything that can be done??

4 BagsFlyFree May 19, 2014 at 2:50 PM

Agree with @3.. There should be some type of sensor that switches the 680 offramp light to yellow once the intersection is near full. That offramp is so long that it can backup for 3/4 mile and it wouldn’t affect 680 traffic.

5 James H May 19, 2014 at 3:07 PM

Also agree with #3. I would suggest monitoring the intersection between the hours of 7 and 8am as well, as I have run into many instances where people coming from that 680 SB exit block the entrance to SB 680 on the opposite side. It is really bad in the afternoon commute hours, too. People don’t know how to judge the distance ahead of them and just blindly enter the intersection.

6 Jason May 19, 2014 at 3:16 PM

Thanks for this new column!

7 Where are the police dash cams mounted? May 19, 2014 at 3:18 PM

Every one I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a bunch) are mounted right next to the rear view mirror.

8 ClayDen May 19, 2014 at 3:32 PM

@anon #2

I’m planning on getting a Garmin VIRB, as it appears superior to the GoPro. I can set it for 1080P video or time lapse video between 0.5 and 60 seconds per frame.

I can also get a tube mount and mount it to the passenger seat head rest, but that will only work when I’m solo, and I will get a lot of “in-car” due to the wide field of view.

There needs to be some reasonableness to the law. I can understand a GPS being a distraction and obstructing your view, but this is passive and non-obstructive.

I may just go for it and take my chances.

9 NoMoreFreeRide May 19, 2014 at 3:37 PM

@BreakingJen – A large part of the problem the light at Monument and Mohr. The light cycles so quickly that the traffic backs up on the freeway. Sounds like a parting shot the city of Pleasant Hill from Concord.

10 Teacher Wannabe May 19, 2014 at 4:03 PM

I would think PH could make a ton of money if they would enforce the gridlock laws. The offramp of NB 680 @ Monument is ridiculous around 3-6pm.

@#7, remember, the police are above the law. When they graduate from the academy they magically gain powers to be able to talk/text, use a laptop, etc while driving, too.

11 BreakingJen May 19, 2014 at 4:04 PM

@NoMoreFreeRide – That makes sense since it only seems to happen during certain hours of the day, like when children are crossing frequently and such. I wonder if could be resolve with that light timing being updated. I don’t go through that intersection but if that light is driving three blocks worth of congestion I would hope the city is already looking into it. I normally have a 10 minute drive home, if I leave the office at 3:15 it will take a full 25 just to get through the many light cycles at the freeway exit. So annoying.

12 MisterC May 19, 2014 at 4:15 PM

@ClayDen If you’re serious about dash-cam you should look at some of the good Korean ones out there like the Blackvue.

They are tiny (tube of lipstick) and many of them record GPS coordinates, speed, and g-force information.

Some even have a second camera to mount into your rear window.

Most have the capability to be left powered up while you are parked and will trigger if your car is jostled.

13 Treat & Cowell commuter May 19, 2014 at 5:03 PM

As a resident of the immediate Treat & Cowell area please consider that only Cowell, Clayton Rd and Concord Ave are carrying traffic in the Claycord area in this direction. Cowell is a very busy road, especially as it goes from 4 to 2 lanes at that intersection.

During weekdays the Treat Blvd direction gets far more green. Be careful what you ask for, a tripped light may give Treat less green.

I’ve seen exactly opposite most of the time. Waiting at Cowell to turn onto Treat with no traffic on Treat to speak of (non-commute times, of course)

I think drivers on Treat need to exhibit the same kind of patience they take for granted from the drivers on Cowell.

14 Killjoy May 19, 2014 at 5:25 PM

Why is it that a motorcycle rider feels entitled to split lanes while traffic is stopped and come right up to the line.
But heaven forbid if they are at the line first and you pull up next to them, they throw a hissy fit like a three year old little girl who was just told she can’t have a tea party.
What’s good for the goose………

15 ClayDen May 19, 2014 at 5:27 PM


There are two VIRB models, the “basic” and the Elite that records GPS coordinates, g forces, and altitude. I’m thinking about the basic version, as it’s $100 less (~$250 vs $350 at Amazon) and has the same photography features.

16 Killjoy May 19, 2014 at 5:29 PM

Oh, and to the jerk on the white Harley (seriously? All white?) pulling a wheelie at Concord Blvd and Ayers, your complete lack of control almost caused an accident as you drifted into the other lane and almost hit that truck.
You look like an idiot.

17 @ClayDen May 19, 2014 at 5:34 PM

I imagine anything is better than a GoPro. I have one and it is a POS. Most of the time the battery is dead when I try to use it. Something is causing parasitic drain. The latest problem is, I turn it on and it works for about 5 seconds and shuts down. Worst consumer electronic purchase I have ever made.

You know why you always see 10 GoPro’s on a race car or trick plane or whatever? It’s because the driver is hoping one of them will actually work and record the race.

18 MrDioji May 19, 2014 at 5:36 PM

Regarding backing out of spaces:

This is why I back-in 90% of the time. Much safer.

19 nytemuvr May 19, 2014 at 5:40 PM

Since Janis related her favorite vehicle code offense, this is mine…..You may not throw anything out of a moving car except for water and chicken feathers.

California Vehicle Code section 23114 “(a) Except as provided in Subpart I (commencing with Section 393.100) of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations related to hay and straw, a vehicle shall not be driven or moved on any highway unless the vehicle is so constructed, covered, or loaded as to prevent any of its contents or load other than clear water or feathers from live birds from dropping, sifting, leaking, blowing, spilling, or otherwise escaping from the vehicle….”

Now if I’m in the HOV lane with 2 people going across the bridge……….

20 DeSaulnier and Bonilla are gonna be all over that chicken feather exclusion May 19, 2014 at 6:36 PM

they will be introducing legislation requiring all chickens to be plucked or wearing parkas while being transported.

21 Janis Mara May 19, 2014 at 6:36 PM

Ahahahahaha @nytemuvr #16, that is hilarious! BUT YOU FORGOT TO MENTION: Must be feathers from a LIVE CHICKEN.

@MrDiojo #15, would you care to share more about backing in? Do you have tips on how to learn to do it – I like the idea but it seems scary backing in, like I might hit one of the cars on either side of me.

@BreakingJen #3, BagsFlyFree #4 and @James H #5, I will talk to the Pleasant Hill police about the situation you outlined.

22 MrD May 19, 2014 at 7:32 PM

@Janis #21: Just like anything else, it takes practice. But instead, I usually park at the far end of a parking lot to avoid being near anyone. This prevents door dings, with fewer cars around it gives me more visibility when coming or going, and I get a little exercise!

23 Antler May 19, 2014 at 8:06 PM

Oh, GOODY….another contest..

The Checkered Orange-and-White Flag contest !!!

My answer:
It means “DIVE..ALL DIVE!!!”

24 J. May 19, 2014 at 8:42 PM

I was on the 680 south doing 65 the other day as all the other cars were when a Harley with loud pipes came by lane sharing at about 80.

25 nytemuvr May 19, 2014 at 10:33 PM

@J. #24
He was trying to avoid chicken feathers (from live chickens) someone carelessly threw out their window. Chicken feathers don’t save lifes, just loud pipes.

26 Z-Man May 19, 2014 at 11:01 PM


The 680/Monument intersection is controlled by Caltrans, not PH, from what I recall.

27 Purina logo May 19, 2014 at 11:08 PM

I always thought the checkered flags were required to drive around airports, and they just leave them on. I could be totally wrong.

28 Road King Terry May 20, 2014 at 2:29 AM

Hey, I own a all white Harley, but I don’t pop wheelies or speed.

29 KenInConcord May 20, 2014 at 6:42 AM

Do you really think that a officer will site you for having a camera next to your rear view mirror. If he does then you bought the wrong camera, or your a complete ass and don’t know how to talk to people.

I really like my Möbius 1080p. It is smaller that a tic tac box and image is almost as good as a gopro and once it’s installed it is totally forgotten until someone does something stupid.

I mounted a very small flat plate and Use Velcro to hold the camera. so if I need to record someone at my side window I just turn the camera.

For all you gopro guys your missing the whole point. I have two gopros and use them for everything…..else! But this camera is wired in to the key, turns off and on automatically is almost invisible. It loops about 12 hours of drive time. I don’t need to adjust, touch or think about it until someone does something really stupid. and cost about $80.

They are really cheap insurance! If you have ever been in a he-said-she-said accident with someone who is lying, you will wish you had one.

30 18king May 20, 2014 at 6:48 AM

@21..that sounds hard enough ,I got a long car for my first one,but I only go straight my dad taught me how to drive so im very careful when im surrounded .other cars, especially since I got my parents car since there gone

31 Anon777 May 20, 2014 at 7:14 AM

Thank you!

32 Beacon May 20, 2014 at 7:34 AM

I back in all the time. I find it is easier to back in to a narrow spot than pull in forward. It is also much easier to exit. Just like any driving maneuver, all it takes is a little practice. I find it is much easier than backing in when parallel parking.

33 Antler May 20, 2014 at 9:44 AM

It’s SO much fun to be driving down a parking lot aisle and to wait for a backer-inner vehicle to make its six-point turn maneuver so that it can park. I put my vehicle in park gear, file my nails, and freshen my lipstick while seeing in my rear-view mirror that other cars are stopped behind mine.

Note: If you have backed into a parking space, it also takes you a lot more neck-craning (time) to be certain that your rear fenders have cleared the vehicles parked on either side of you before you make the cut to turn. (I.e. If you have parked facing IN, it’s easier for you to see your front fenders to monitor the cut.) But please don’t rush; the rest of us have allllllll the time in the world.

If you are backing out, just start the engine, put the gear into reverse, and bounce your foot on the brake a few times so that a car coming down the aisle knows your intentions. They’ll either honk their horn at you to indicate they want to pass first, or else they’ll wait so as to pull into your space after you’ve left. What’s the problem with that?

34 @Antler May 20, 2014 at 10:27 AM

I don’t know what you drive, but my car has mirrors on the sides that I can use for backing. They make neck craning unnecessary. I’ll bet I can back into a space just as quickly as you can pull in forward.

And you can’t possibly believe your “flash the brake lights, wait for a honk, then go for it” method is safe.

35 Antler May 20, 2014 at 11:46 AM

#34 ….. I referred to vehicles which originally BACK in….. then the driver’s having to look into the side mirrors so as to monitor the position of his own vehicle’s rear fender/bumper so that it clears before he makes the cut to depart.

And I did not at any time use the phrase “go for it”! Of course one still watches for oncoming cars and pedestrians when backing out! Either you are reading carelessly or else you purposely changed my meaning and words so that you could blast back. Both?

36 Gopro May 20, 2014 at 12:46 PM

I use a Gopro with Gopro handlebar mount on the back of my rear view mirror, you cant see it really for the driver so im sure this is perfect. Never been pulled over for it. I sometime mount my gopro on roof above windshield, but then its outside and i commonly forget about it there.

37 @Antler May 20, 2014 at 1:37 PM

Sorry for the misunderstanding. But my mirrors are equally effective when moving forward. And I barely have to move my head to see them.

38 cabbie May 20, 2014 at 1:45 PM
39 Killjoy May 20, 2014 at 5:43 PM

@ Road King Terry
This guy was on a Sportster. It looked like the frame was white too. He had one of those tiny quarter fairings on the front. The kind that won’t even deflect the wind.
He was giving bikers a bad name.
This coming from a guy how still has his Class M1 license, since it was a Class 4 (yeah, the DMV changed the classifications years ago).

40 Killjoy May 20, 2014 at 5:44 PM

Ugh. Damned autocorrect.
Should have been who still has his class M1 Not how.

41 I drive a bigrig May 20, 2014 at 6:49 PM

The flags mean that the truck is working on the airport, FAA rules for visibility

42 Captain Freeway May 28, 2014 at 2:31 PM

My question was answered about the truck flags… saying they work at the airport. The flags also apparently mean “unofficially” they can dump all the debris they want on the road they want: Dirt clods, rocks and their loads are not covered on top so stuff flies out. They should be properly watered down and loads secured before they get out on the roads – but they never are. :(

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