Asleep at the Wheel

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“Damn this traffic jam
How I hate to be late
It hurts my motor to go to slow
Damn this traffic jam”
(James Taylor)

Yesterday I headed out Mulberry and turned right on to Oakdale. I could see the stop light at East Church Street turn green, but it’s a short one. If you’re not already at the light you’ll never get under it. Stop number 1.

No one is at the intersection but me, so the green light on East Church is for no one, while I wait for no purpose at all. My light turns green and I drive to the Fairy Street intersection, almost made it, but I would either have to pinch it to stop or floor it to get under the caution light. I pinched it. Stop number 2.

Around the turn and the light is red at the Brookdale intersection. I can see the next light ahead at the Burger King and it’s green. When my light turns green the light at Burger King goes to red. I wait at both. Stops number 3 and 4.

I turn left onto Chatham Heights Road and dang it if the light at Hooker Field puts me in that “pinch it or floor it” mode again. Because it’s a 3-way intersection and no one is at the light on Commonwealth, I floor this one and the light turns red as I go under it.

For the life of me, I can’t comprehend how we have cars that can drive themselves and don’t have smart stop lights. It’s certainly not because we don’t have the technology. I read an article yesterday about a group of students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who has developed a program that allows cars to collaborate amongst themselves and negotiate intersections so no one ever stops. The traffic flows smoothly all the time without any traffic lights whatsoever. They call it “Virtual Traffic Lights” or VTL. They’ve already tested this extensively in simulations for a year and a half and the results are in… it’s time to ditch the traffic light.

Sitting in a car going nowhere should be as foreign to us as a rotary phone is to a teenager, but for some reason, this modern phenomenon is still waiting for the light to turn green, and by the way… driving on the roads is a privilege, not a right, according to the law. That being said, cars should already be smart enough to not start when someone intoxicated tries to drive it, and it should know what the speed limit is on the road it’s on and not go faster than what is legally allowed. Traffic violations and the manpower to police it is, in today’s age, a mindless and inexcusable waste!

By the time I’m too old to drive I’m expecting to be able to travel without having to operate the machine that gets me there. Commercial jets fly across the world on autopilot and we still think we should have a steering wheel?

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