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Thursday, August 20, 2009

San Francisco Stoplight Rules

Ages ago, I posted the secret to surviving Israeli traffic: always yield, never hurry.

I need to post an addendum to that advice: San Francisco stoplight rules.

San Francisco is an extremely hilly town with some downright roller-coaster type roads. One of my favorites is Franklin Street heading downhill towards the Gate--can't beat the view or the adrenaline rush.

That said, the two most common forms of accidents (barring bicycle accidents) are (1) people getting killed at crosswalks by vehicles running up on the curb, or alternatively, people stepping into the street at the curb; and (2) red-light runners.

Any native of the area knows, absolutely KNOWS, that when your light turns green, you DO NOT GO. You count "one-Missouri, two-Missouri" while looking left and right to make sure the traffic has actually stopped. To proceed on a green light on the assumption that opposing traffic has actually stopped for the red light is suicidal. I've always blamed it on the hills--there's something about the steep hills that makes braking for a red light unattractive....so drivers just blow through them because they think the impetus of downhill gravity will get them through that intersection before the green-lit cross traffic actually gets into gear.

Nowadays, with instant messaging, car phones, cellphones, CDs and televisions in the cars, it isn't necessarily the hills. All these other distractions make driving anywhere, even on flat freeways in LA, a daily crap shoot.

But today, I saw a reason to add San Francsico stoplight rules.

Yossi was kind enough to give me a lift back from coffee, since I was without wheels. We were talking about something inconsequential as we drove east-bound on the main Gilo ridge road. As we approached the light-controlled intersection that leads out to Gush Etzion, we were about 30 feet behind another car. That other car had the right-of-way because the light was green. Really GREEN--not yellow-about-to-be-green, not green-but-had-just-turned...it was definitively, positively green. The driver in front of us proceeded sedately at the posted limit right into the intersection.

We saw it coming. Barely. We saw a blur of car coming off the Gush road, showing no signs of stopping, and sure enough, he blew through the red light and plowed right into the intersection. And into the front end of the driver who had just entered the intersection on the green light.

The impact knocked the front end off of both cars, and spun them sideways. Fortunately, no one appeared to be gravely hurt -- the at-fault driver got out of his car immediately and approached the other driver who was still seated.

Yossi was already on the phone to the police. He got out of his car and walked up to the cars. I made myself useful by waving on-coming traffic into the adjacent lane, so I couldn't hear the conversation at the scene.

We left, having reported it and seen a paramedic who had been waiting at the Gush bus stop run over with his equipment.

"What did you say to him?" I asked, having seen Yossi direct a comment to the red light runner.

"I told him to be quiet--HE ran the red light so don't berate the other driver," he told me.

"And what did he say?," I asked, knowing that tempers get frayed on the road easily.

"He didn't say anything after that. The ambulance will come for the other driver. He says he isn't hurt, but that's the adrenaline talking--he'll hurt as soon as the shock wears off."

I wasn't even in the accident...but its been replaying itself all day in my head. I'm not sure that there was any way to avoid it, but I've wondered all day if the driver in front of us could have avoided the collision by looking and checking the traffic to his right--even though he had the green light.

Maybe not. But I'm going to start putting my San Francisco-bred instincts to work at the intersections from here on out.


Anonymous Mongrel said...

Every few month's we do go to Niedersachsen in Germany, it is amazing in contrast to The Netherlands how well the Germans do behave at traffic lights or even crossings without a light.

Monday, August 24, 2009 at 9:44:00 PM GMT+3  
Blogger RivkA with a capital A said...

This is really disturbing!!

Force of habit (from NJ driving), has me wait when the light turns green, just to be sure.

But to actually STOP at a green light, that would NEVER occur to me!!

This makes me especially afraid for my son who is now riding his bike around town.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 at 4:02:00 PM GMT+3  

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