Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Do Corpses Count as Passengers in Carpool Lanes? + MUCH MORE

June 16, 2014 14:00 pm · 41 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:Traffic Jammer, I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper on Interstate 680 Thursday afternoon, minding my own business, and a hearse with a single occupant and a casket passed by in the diamond lane. While sitting there I got to wondering … does a body in a casket qualify as a second passenger? Or a corpse anywhere in your car, come to think of it?

-Atticus Thraxx

TRAFFIC JAMMER: The intention of the commuter lane is to help people get to work more quickly, hence the appellation “commuter” lane. So no, the corpse does not qualify as a second passenger, because it has kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. Thanks for one of the best questions ever, and all you smart Claycordians, where did that last sentence come from?

COMMUTER: A traffic school instructor beat this into my head about 20 years ago: to avoid a red light violation, the rear bumper of your vehicle must be at least half way through the intersection when the light turns red.


TRAFFIC JAMMER: The Jammer thought it would be instructive to follow up with our resident Claycord law enforcement officer, Leo, on this comment from our beloved RunnerDope. Here’s what Leo had to say:

“On red lights: if you are in the intersection before the lights turns red, you made it. You are in the intersection if your car has crossed the limit line (the white line at the intersection or the first line of the crosswalk as you enter the intersection). Think of a photo finish in racing.

Generally, in CLAYCORD traffic court, the judge wants to hear the driver was clearly behind the line after the light turned red. Like in baseball, the tie goes to the runner (driver).

A word of caution: If you’re trying to “make the light,” you’re driving in contrast to the spirit of the yellow light. Yellow means caution. I’ve successfully prosecuted cases where the drive made the yellow light, but was speeding to do it. No red light ticket, but the speeding was upheld.”

COMMUTER: I was wondering who I would speak to about having traffic patterns monitored for possible additional stop light/stop signs around the Clayton Valley Charter High School area in Concord. The traffic is so horrible, especially coming off Academy Road on to Alberta. Also, what about crosswalk lights?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: As promised, the Jammer ran the above question by Concord Traffic Czar Ray Kuzbari. Here’s his response:

“The City has been in contact with the school and they have expressed interest in rectangular rapid flashing beacon installations at two of the crosswalks on Alberta Way in front of the school. The City does not have enough funds in the budget to install these devices at this time.

Alternatively, the school has been reviewing the possibility of funding the installation of these devices to accelerate their implementation. The City would still be responsible for the long-term operation and maintenance costs.”

COMMUTER: The stat of x percent of people killed in auto crashes weren’t wearing their seat belt doesn’t really mean anything other than some number of people that were killed in auto crashes were not wearing seat belts. It doesn’t talk to survivability. What they should say is that x percent of people killed in auto crashes would have survived if they had worn their seat-belt.

–Lies, damn lies and statistics

TRAFFIC JAMMER: LDLS, the Jammer does take your point. A Web search did not turn up anything phrased that way; this is the closest the Jammer could find: “In fatal crashes during 2011, 77 percent of passenger vehicle occupants who were thrown from their vehicles were killed. However, only 1 percent of crash victims who were buckled up were totally ejected from their vehicles, compared to 31 percent of those who were unbelted.”

Here’s what Chris Cochran of the California Office of Traffic Safety had to say:

  • In 2012, there were 991 fatalities known to have been wearing seat belts and 487 known to not have been wearing seat belts.  That’s roughly 2-to-1 ratio of belted to unbelted.  The same year, observations showed that 96.4 percent of Californians used seat belts.  That’s roughly a 32-to-1 ratio.
  • NHTSA has estimated that, at California’s current seat belt usage rate, 1,220 lives were saved in 2012 by the use of seat belts.  In addition, they estimate that 96 of the 487 mentioned above would have been saved if they all had been wearing a seat belt.
  • California’s 2013 seat belt usage rate is 97.4%, the highest in history and second highest in the nation.

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 Antler June 16, 2014 at 2:04 PM

Janis and Atticus….two of the best commenters EVER. OK, I don’t even care what the answers are, but I’m holding front row seats for this week’s show!

2 jtkatec June 16, 2014 at 2:09 PM

Janis, tell your Concord traffic czar thanks. Last week when I hit Bacon and East, it did not take the usual four minutes for the pedestrian light to change. It changed quite quickly after I hit the button.

3 Cowellian June 16, 2014 at 2:20 PM
4 Anon June 16, 2014 at 2:20 PM

If a corpse does not qualify as a second passenger, than why does a lliving being under the legal driving age??? Like you stated, its called a “commuter” lane for a reason.

I was pulled over years ago while driving in the carpool lane. I had my 1 year old with me so I did not get a ticket (even though he searched for any reason to cite me but couldn’t find a d@mn thing hahaha). Something I have wondered all these years.

5 RunnerDope June 16, 2014 at 2:24 PM

From a poem by George Eliot, O May I Join the Choir Invisible.

6 RunnerDope June 16, 2014 at 2:35 PM

I’d like to change my answer. The previous (complete) sentence has never been uttered in the history of the universe.

7 Killjoy June 16, 2014 at 2:48 PM

And now for something completely different, I give you Atticus Thraxx’ question. LOL

8 Always Right June 16, 2014 at 2:51 PM

Obviously a case of habias corpus.

9 I'm The Urban Spaceman June 16, 2014 at 3:15 PM

Monty Python…he’s referring of course to the state of existence the Parrot was in when recently purchased.

10 I'm The Urban Spaceman June 16, 2014 at 3:23 PM

There is no rule in Baseball stating a tie goes to the runner.
Ties do not exist in Baseball, even when they do happen…you’re out or safe.

11 It's not called a "commuter lane". June 16, 2014 at 3:28 PM

It’s called a “High Occupancy Vehicle” lane. And a corpse is still an occupant.

12 Ancient Mariner June 16, 2014 at 3:29 PM

Another reason that it’s a bad idea to run the yellow at the last possible second is that, because the cross-traffic is just about to get their green light, someone who knows the timing of the lights might be coming up to their red at full speed while anticipating the green. So they race up to the red which turns green at the last second, while your at full speed running the yellow – and there’s a collision.
Before you say this is far-fetched, I know of just such an accident (corner of Geary Road and Patterson) in which a child in one of the cars was severly injured.

13 @Always Right June 16, 2014 at 3:45 PM

>> habias corpus.

Something my dad told me, don’t use words you can’t spell.

14 mutts June 16, 2014 at 4:05 PM

Is the corpse going to be late?

15 RunnerDope June 16, 2014 at 4:07 PM

>> There is no rule in Baseball stating a tie goes to the runner.
Ties do not exist in Baseball, even when they do happen…you’re out or safe.

@I’m The Urban Spaceman,

True, there is no rule saying a tie goes to the runner. But Rule 6.05 (j) states, a batter is out when, after a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base. That implies to me that a tie should go to the runner.

The new replay rules are really changing the way the game is played. For instance, a few weeks ago in two Giants games, runners who were originally called out on tag plays had the call reversed on review. In previous years, having the throw clearly beat the runner to the base resulted in an out call. This was done in the interest of safety. With “instant” replay, players are forced to make more aggressive tags than before.

16 Janis Mara June 16, 2014 at 4:17 PM

O Beloved Claycordians, speak on! You are hilarious!

17 SAR June 16, 2014 at 4:32 PM

What ‘RunnerDope’ is trying to say is that if he is the games umpire… a “tie” would mean the runner is safe.

18 SAR June 16, 2014 at 4:32 PM

It’s a judgement call.

19 LostBoysMom June 16, 2014 at 5:04 PM

It’s metabolic processes are now history! -Monty Python

20 Russ June 16, 2014 at 5:15 PM

Why does the hearse need a commuter lane? Is the meter running? Are they paid by the hour? Where ever it is that Mr. Body is going, its likely a final resting place, so whats the hurry?

21 down and out June 16, 2014 at 5:16 PM

no. 4:
children count as commuters since they may be commuting to school or their babysitter or to the hospital if sick.

22 I'm The Urban Spaceman June 16, 2014 at 5:20 PM

>>a batter is out when, after a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base. That implies to me that a tie should go to the runner.<<

No. Read the rule again…the batter is safe if he reaches first after the dropped third strike before being tagged out or the throw to 1st beats the runner. There is still no tie, just safe or out.
Now, how about the umps addressing players running inside the 1st baseline instead of the running lane in foul territory?

23 Robert June 16, 2014 at 5:36 PM

One memorable seat belt story involved Derrick Thomas, linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs. From

Thomas was driving a car during a snowstorm on Jan. 23 as he and two friends headed to the Kansas City airport to fly to St. Louis for the NFC Championship game. He lost control of the car and it overturned at least three times, police said.
Thomas and passenger Michael Tellis, 49, were not wearing seat belts and were thrown from the car. Tellis was killed and Thomas’ spine and neck were broken. The third person in the car, who was wearing his seat belt, sustained only minor injuries.

Thomas died less than a month later.

24 Atticus Thraxx June 16, 2014 at 6:01 PM

I was thinking ’cause of the smell Russ. It was kinda hot. I don’t know how many of those green tree air fresheners you’d have to hang in a hearse, but I bet it’s alot.

25 Cowellian June 16, 2014 at 6:16 PM

I got the joke, Always Right.

26 Anon June 16, 2014 at 6:20 PM

@down and out #21

Thank you for the clarification!

27 Chronic Halitosis June 16, 2014 at 6:37 PM

And if your communing to work pregnant with twins. The twins count because they are going to work with you.

28 Connie Dobbs June 16, 2014 at 6:48 PM

I’m not dead. I’m feeling better. I think I’ll go for a walk….

29 Cowellian June 16, 2014 at 7:05 PM

And some carpools are better off without conversation.

30 paranoid pablito June 16, 2014 at 8:59 PM

He’s not dead. He’s pining for the fjords.

31 Antler June 16, 2014 at 10:42 PM

But seriously….. the Recently Departed might very well have driven that freakish and expensive commute to and from work for 40 years! C’mon, Officer……you know I’m known as the “Hanging Judge” in this jurisdiction, but “This case is dismissed !!!”

32 CV mom June 16, 2014 at 11:51 PM

Yes! flashing lights for the crosswalks at CV are definitely needed! I have seen so many near misses with kids crossing at the crosswalks in front of the school and cars almost hitting them. It is a dangerous situation that needs to be fixed.

33 Killjoy June 17, 2014 at 5:27 AM

Yes, kids count in the HOV lanes. Personally I’ve always thought the idea was to remove additional cars from the roadways. If that were true, then only folks old enough to hold a drivers license should count when figuring amount of people in the vehicle.

34 Flashing Lights will SLOW traffic June 17, 2014 at 9:27 AM

I’ve seen how the flashing lights cause delays on Mt. Diablo in Walnut Creek. Once a student hits the light, it’ll blink for 15 or 20 seconds so we’ll have a guaranteed delay for each blinking session as cars will wait for the lights to stop. Couple that with the fact that the kids wont wait for the lights to blink before they walk and cars will wait for them anyway. How will this make things better?

Before anything like this becomes permanent or even proposed with the City, there should definitely be a community discussion about this. Neighbors need to be involved in the decision!

35 down and out June 17, 2014 at 10:40 AM

I hate it when a bicyclist hits the button to cross, then goes anyway, before given the signal. Or even if he goes with the signal, he is through the intersection on his bike in 3 seconds, while cars have to wait for 20 seconds while the pedestrian signal is stiill on! I have seen homeless bottle collectors do this on their bikes at 4 AM, while I wait in my car extra long at the light waiting while there is no traffic!

I also hate pedestrians who hit both buttons, for either straight through the cross walk or the cross walk perpendicular to it, and they choose whichever one lights up first.

36 Kirkwood June 17, 2014 at 1:21 PM

How about kids that push all the buttons as they walk by, no intention of crossing!

37 down and out June 17, 2014 at 3:27 PM

kids love to push buttons. whenever they see a handicap or elevator door button, they push it!

38 Funny June 17, 2014 at 6:26 PM

I think it’s funny when people stand at the crosswalk and keep pushing the button faster and harder and more impatiently as they’re waiting to cross the street. They don’t realize that the first push trips the switch, and nothing else they do will change the timing. Guess they’re used to getting their way because where they are going is more important than anyplace you’re headed.

39 Connie Dobbs June 17, 2014 at 6:55 PM

#35 Right, because if pedestrians had anywhere to go they’d be driving.

40 Ms. Jean June 17, 2014 at 9:22 PM

Love that you are a Python fan – bring out yer dead!

41 nee June 18, 2014 at 2:18 AM

Didn’t want to be late for the funeral!

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