What Gives?

I’ve lived in Cedar City for close to thirty years, but I’ve almost been hit by drivers blatantly running red lights three times in the last month, compared to once in all the years before. Red lights, not yellow lights that turned red. I’ve also seen four drivers running stop signs, not slowing instead of stopping and then speeding up, but running them full speed… and not in the middle of the night when no one was around. I know of at least two recent accidents where a driver ignored a red light and caused an accident, one of which resulted in the death of a motorcyclist.

The Utah State Highway patrol has also reported that highway speeds, accidents, and deaths are up dramatically in the past year – the average speeds appearing to the fastest ever, even though speed limits haven’t changed. I’ve been passed on Main Street, when driving the speed limit [25-45 mph, depending on locale] by drivers who had to be going close to sixty, and frequently, not just occasionally. On the interstate, while going 82 mph in an 80 mph area, I found that to avoid causing a traffic back-up I had to move up to 85 mph, and people were still passing me, going at least 90 mph.

But this isn’t confined to Utah, either. Neighboring Colorado registered the highest number highway deaths in twenty years in 2021. And late in 2021, the federal government reported that road fatalities spiked the first half of 2021, the largest increase ever recorded in its reporting system’s history during a six-month period, nearly a twenty percent increase from the same period in 2020. Incidents of speeding and not using seatbelts were also found to be higher than before the pandemic.

Then there’s this pandemic, where statistics demonstrate rather conclusively that being vaccinated and wearing a mask reduces your chance of being hospitalized and/or dying. Data from New York shows that of those recently hospitalized for COVID, the unvaccinated were more than 32 times likely to be hospitalized than those who were vaccinated and even more likely than that to die and/or suffer long-term complications.

I just wonder if all those people speeding and running red lights are the same ones who aren’t getting vaccinated, especially here in Cedar City, where only 47% of the eligible population is vaccinated.

17 thoughts on “What Gives?”

  1. K. Lorenz says:

    I suspect there are many reasons for the incidents you observe, and that you have an inkling of the reasons yourself. I have seen this behavior here in the midwest increase markedly in the last few years as well; viz, the blatant running of stop signs and red lights. However, it is part and parcel of a trend that has been in existence for a number of years now. I noticed it most dramatically in 2012 after returning from living in Ireland for 4 years. The changes in mass driving behavior was dramatic in that time. And believe me, I also see it up close and personal as I have been an habitual cyclist for nearly 40 years (recreational, commuting, and racing in my earlier days).

    What is/are the reasons? Well, the drivers themselves often tell me/us, either verbally or with gestures (hand/middle finger). I’ve been told that I don’t belong on the road with the cars, even though I legally do. I’ve been told I don’t pay road taxes and therefore am not entitled to the use of the road, even though I do pay those same taxes (property, licensing for my automobile no matter how little I may use it, and gasoline taxes). Mostly, they are incensed that I might cause them to slow down or impede their right to go as fast as they want as often as they want. Because?…..Freedom.

    You see, I read this blog often and some of the commentary and topics overlap. The Libertarian leaning citizens wish to do as they wish with as little interference in their lives as possible. The community minded citizens wish to see as much behavior and incentives for that behavior that will do the most common good. Unfortunately, we are in an ever more crowded world and the wishes of the libertarians are increasingly at odds with that reality.

    This concept was vividly explored in Isaac Asimov’s 5th book in the Foundation series, Foundation and Earth. The central travelers looking for the mythical beginnings of the Galaxy’s civilization are searching for Earth. They encounter a planet called Solaria. It is inhabited and shared by only 1200 people that have evolved to despise social interaction and sharing to the point that they live underground, manage their own estate as independently as is feasible on a commonly owned world, communicate only virtually with the rest of the planet’s inhabitants, and ultimately develop hermaphroditic anatomy as a way to control their individual freedom as profoundly as (humanly??) possible. The philosophy doesn’t work well in pratcice.

    To be human is to share and socialize with other humans. To care enough for what is important to them. To modify our own wishes and desires to effect some civilized outcome for ourselves and the rest.

    In short, to not run everyone down or off the road with our damn cars and to wait patiently for just a few seconds in sharing the road.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Don’t blame the libertarians, we (not that I am entirely one) don’t want to get splattered either, nor have those people we care about, however few they may be (as contrasted to leftists with pretensions of caring about every human everywhere, which they cannot, not knowing them as individuals), harmed by avoidable carelessness or arrogance. Libertarian DOES NOT MEAN ZERO RULES, just as few as reasonably possible mostly voluntarily complied with, but enforced as necessary. That actually can work BETTER than lots more rules, insofar as it’s possible to enforce less rules more consistently with finite resources.

      You think it’s bad some places? The NYC / DC corridor +/- maybe 40 miles east/west of I-95, is just (and has been for decades) plain hostile, MOST people act as if they would rather you were dead than slowing them down, as long as you die behind them and the jam is cleared by the time they come back. (but western MD/PA, or MD Eastern Shore, are almost polite by comparison; in Pittsburgh they even merge voluntarily taking turns!) Almost all exceed 55-70 MPH speed limits by at least 15 MPH, and go full speed as long as possible up to an exit (while being too lazy to pass within a couple of miles of the exit), assuming that they have some right to such madness; then, being basically incompetent or afraid of curves, they slam on the brakes.

      On a familiar exit, I tend to school them as traffic permits, using hill or downshifting to slow me down while they tailgate on the straightaway, and then taking the ramp at a speed most can’t follow (having learned how to handle curves, and knowing familiar ramps at all hours and seasons over thousands of trips); having been given no clue with brake lights, they usually scare themselves and come off the ramp half a mile or more behind me, and should they still be going my way, don’t tailgate me again. Any idiot can go fast on the straightaway, but some seem capable of recognizing the hint that that’s not all there is to being Mad Max, Road Warrior. (WARNING: don’t try that unless you’re REALLY good with curves and ramps, know your road conditions, have been on that ramp quite recently before, etc; and even then only in very light traffic if at all.)

      As to my theory why this is perhaps getting worse now, the pandemic has disrupted a LOT of people’s schedules, the structure of their days, their resources and expectations, etc. And both/multiple sides in political or social differences have felt very free to throw gas on the flames, adding to short fuses. (social media doesn’t help, but IMO censoring (by media or government) just hides the problem, whereas the worst offenders would be shamed by all except the like-minded) Add the “defund the police” idiocy, and you have a recipe for craziness.

      Short of any other single factor, that suggests to me that a widespread adherence to a reasonably functional degree of order is probably ALWAYS a more fragile thing than we usually realize, and ANY disruption of structure makes the worst come out more readily than the best. Take a natural disaster: in some locales, there will be a lot of voluntary mutual assistance, but in others (mostly large cities, although not all of them), there will be looting and rampant opportunism.

      YOU CANNOT LEGISLATE SANITY OR ETHICS/MORALITY. And driver’s training will only provide tools, not behavior. If someone didn’t learn the basics of good behavior by age five (showing that school can’t teach it either, it takes PARENTS), it’s a long shot that they ever will. The ONLY thing you can do is enforce consistently (small rule set again) against particularly egregious behavior.

  2. Jerico says:

    Mr. Modesitt,

    Given my short tenure on this Earth (26 years) I’m afraid I don’t recall a time when drivers were… polite. Being a former fast driver, I can tell you that part of the allure is shaving a few minutes off one’s travel time. If the GPS says 30 minutes, I shall do it in 25. From this, I believe the crux of the issue is “projected travel times” and people wanting to go faster, as if they can somehow reclaim their “lost” time from the GPS.

    Fortunately for myself and other drivers, a State Trooper caught me doing 86mph in a 70mph. Afterwards, I did some mental math and decided that I shall get there when I get there.

    For safety, I suggest operating under the assumption that all other drivers on the road are out to kill you, and all pedestrians are suicidal. While not the most cheery of assumptions, it has enabled me to avoid a great many hazardous road situations.

    For reference, I have driven an average of 20,000 miles per year, for the past 3 years.

    Warm Regards,

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Sadly accurate enough. The math suggests simply leaving five minutes earlier would allow leaving the excess of competitiveness and aggression behind, at least for trips of less than 50 miles or so. (Imagine arriving relatively rested rather than frustrated and angry.) Past that distance, one might be able to make up a little…or lose more if there’s some disruption, so leaving early should probably scale up according to trip length and anticipated conditions, which, unlike live conditions, Google Maps, generally the best at estimating travel time, doesn’t seem realistic about.

  3. Lourain Pennington says:

    Add to your trends the increasing incivility during air travel.

  4. Postagoras says:

    Some people’s judgment and consideration vanish when they’re following the directions given by their mapping application.
    Plus, the map programs send everyone down the same street. In my neighborhood, there’s a section where there are six parallel streets, but Google maps thinks that one of them is two seconds faster. So everyone gets sent down that one street. Which makes everyone get impatient as they sit in a long line of cars waiting to negotiate the intersection.

  5. Grey says:

    I think the comments on the mapping software are on to something, but there is an aspect to it that’s worse than you think. A close relative is a data scientist that specializes in machine learning, and they said that the mapping software uses the users to improve the predictions. But it’s not just that your progress from A to B is monitored, rather, users are deliberately sent on bad or inefficient routes to check traffic, light timing, and etc. So, if you have ever wondered why you are being routed on a odd path….

  6. Hanneke says:

    The increase in road deaths during the lockdown phases of the pandemic appears to be caused by more people speeding faster due to emptier roads (research has found a strong correllation where data is available). US roads are built to make it easy to drive fast, so if drivers aren’t held up by other cars they do just that, regardless of speed limits.

    The broader trend towards increasing road deaths, as well as an increase in incivility, appears to be caused by / correllate with the increased sales of SUVs. Drivers in powerful (heavy, high, costly) cars feel more powerful and less vulnerable (even if this is not objectively true, as a lot of these SUVs are much more inclined to roll because of their height/weight distribution). This can lead to them taking more risks (risk compensation is a real effect), and research has found it leads a certain (fairly high) proportion of such drivers to being more inclined to bully other road users, and expect them to make way.
    Combine that with the extra deadliness of SUVs to other road users – both larger blind zones in front of the car, fronts designed to intimidate rather than protect external victims in a crash, and a lot more weight, hitting higher on the body (torso & head rather than legs) of any pedestrian, cyclist, motorcyclist or smaller car, which is much more deadly; and each mile any mass goes faster increases the deadliness.

    The psychological effects of wide straight streets with wide-flared corners and slip lanes leading to speeding, could be mitigated by tge way infrastructure is designed.
    The effect of people who feel more powerful being more likely to take risks with the lives of those they consider impediments could be helped again by better infrastructure design, keeping vulnerable road users away from speeding high-mass vehicles, and by regulating that the way vehicles are built needs to take into account the risks they pose to those around them.

    Signs don’t work, and people make mistakes. There are plenty of real-life examples elsewhere that show that if you design the streets and intersections to enforce the maximum speed, and keep it below 20 mph wherever vulnerable people have to interact / cross paths with cars, the road deaths can be kept much, much lower than is usual in the US.
    Even in the US, there are places like Carmel Indiana that are managing to bring their road deaths down a lot, by designing in safety for pedestrians and cyclists, and creating a vibrant city center where businesses thrive while doing so.
    But it needs political will and perseverance, and a planning department that is willing to try new things.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Don’t blame the SUVs, it’s the drivers. Just like don’t blame the guns, it’s the shooters.

      Granted that someone in a Yugo/Fiat 500/Morris Mini might be justifiably a bit more cautious, knowing they have a lot less crumple zone, the SUV does not confer craziness. I drive a mini-SUV, or a sports car, or in the future maybe a Cybertruck (capable of sports car acceleration, average top speed, quite heavy but with very low center of gravity with battery pack and motors low). Conscience, expense, risk, and paperwork aside, I don’t want my vehicle damaged, thanks very much. (and skill with curves and corners means that even a slightly top-heavy SUV can do more than one might suppose in the hands of the right driver; although the one time I had to drive a full-size van, THAT definitely felt horribly top-heavy to me)


      1. I have to agree with R. Hamilton here. While I see some SUVs and trucks doing excessive speeds, more than half of those “super-speeders” are people in sedans and other non-SUV configurations. The same is also true for running lights and stop signs, at least from what I’ve seen.

        1. K. Lorenz says:

          My reply I expect will set off a few, but here goes. This idea has failed to take off in the states (yeah, again, because freedom). It is routinely being used in Ireland for both speeding and for paying tolls on toll roads.

          Traffic cameras with automatic license plate reading and mailed tickets can be a VERY effective way to introduce compliance with both speeding laws on interstates around large cities as well as for sensitive intersections. It also eliminates bias in traffic enforcement, allows for more effective use of police officers in cruisers (how many times have I seen 3 police cars responding to a single vehicle pulled over on the interstate for simple moving violations), and is safer for those same police officers not to approach cars for routine ticketing leading to some well documented bad outcomes.

          However, moving to the use of cameras does not allow for the much desired (in some states) seizure of drugs, autos, and cash that helps buy lots of police hardware.

          AND, I expect both certain portions of the population, as well as politicians, to scream the loudest about government spying and loss of their freedoms from intrusion of cameras. However, there is no guaranteed right to speed and run traffic signs and lights on our roads.

          I’ve been informed that some areas have limited camera uses. I know that a toll station at the Indiana/KY border bridge uses them and no one is complaining about loss of privacy in that instance. So, ideas anyone on why this would be so bad an idea?

          1. Elena says:

            One instant answer is bad placement (eg bottom of a hill) and bad calibration. I’ve read about cameras being set to trigger at levels that traffic cops consider to be within tolerance levels of the speed limits – and even sending tickets to people who were going below the limit if the camera was badly calibrated.

            I think British Columbia, Canada phased out their photo radar program over these issues, though other provinces are still using them from what I’m reading.

  7. Derek says:

    My father once said, “You might get your destination 5 minutes early, or… you can arrive at your _final_ destination 30 years too early. Your choice.”

    And it stuck with me.

  8. Hanneke says:

    It’s not that people in smaller cars don’t speed, it’s that the larger and heavier vehicle with the high straight front end is much more likely to inflict deadly damage at the same too-fast speed.
    Even if the same percentage of SUV drivers speed, they will be inflicting more KSI (killed or serious injury) damage than if they were speeding in smaller cars with sloping fronts (designed to hit pedestrians at leg height and absorb some of their impact on the hood, instead of transmitting all the kinetic energy into the person impacted).

    Though young men statistically drive more recklessly, and for financial reasons often drive smaller cars, so you may well see more small cars driven recklessly. If you look at the numbers split out to age groups and sex, per group those who drive large cars designed to look intimidating, i.e. a lot of SUVs, drive more aggressively than those in their peer group driving smaller cars. That includes speeding and driving through stop signs. As R.Hamilton says, someone in a small car might be justifiably a bit more cautious – and that clearly translates into proportionally less KSI damage caused (for their age and experience group).

    Think about it this way, if you are out walking, and an agressively speeding young man is driving towards you, would you rather he was driving a Fiat 500 or a Ford 150 SUV?
    It is eminently clear which could do more damage on impact (say at 40 mph in a 20 mph school zone), though above certain speeds all cars have enough mass to kill. Allowing car designers to ignore the external impact of their design, focus on the visual aspect, and market their cars as aggressive predators is a clear part of the increasing road deaths.

    Of course, I’d rather not have him speeding there at all, which means designing the street so that speeding becomes nearly impossible without damaging your car – narrow lanes, single lanes instead of doubles; protected intersections, with protected bulb-outs at crossings, creating corner islands with sharp curves that cars have to go around slowly before they cross a pedestrion or cycle crossing, so the car and the crosser are at right angles and can see each other; no right on red; central islands so tge pedestrian crossing can focus on one car lane at a time, and medians with high curbs/kerbs and where necessary concrete blocks or strong bollards to stop a car from overtaking the car in front which is keeping to the legal maximum or waiting for someone to finish crossing the street; one-way pass-throughs so drivers have to wait for an oncoming car to clear the pass-through before proceeding (and alternate the direction which has precedence in passing through); and planting trees in medians and along roads, visually narrowing the road. Use the space won by narrowing lanes to put a concrete and/or parking protected cycle lane between the parked cars and the sidewalks, so cyclists don’t hold up cars and kids can bike to school on their own, thereby diminishing the morning traffic peak when all the kids are driven/driving to school. There really are a LOT of things that can be done, which will inconvenience motorists a bit at first but tend to lead to a smoother, pleasanter ride with less congestion after people get used to the changes. Waze driver satisfaction polls don’t rank the Netherlands first for nothing – and all these measures are ubiquitous there, while the road death toll is much lower than in the US.

    But American, British and Australian politicians are extremely wary of being perceived to inconvenience motorists, their press tends to focus on that to lambast them and ignore the benefits, and their voters keep voting them in. So the conclusion has to be that these voters care less about the people killed or seriously injured by unnecessary vehicular violence than about the chance of being slightly inconvenienced for a while by any measures meant to mitigate that.
    To me, that looks like either enormously callous egocentricity as promoted by the libertarianists, or woefully underinformed short-term and hyperlocal vision from needing to concentrate on surviving here and now, with no thought to the future. For the latter group, I sometimes try to show there are other options.
    But as mr.Modesitt’s blog is not focused on infrastucture, land use and transportation, I’ll shut up again for a while.

    1. I’ll grant your political and environmental points, and the fact that short-term American impatience makes matters worse, but there’s one other factor to be considered, and that’s the fatality rate. In the U.S., with all the freeways and interstates, I’m not about too buy a really small car, partly because, even with all the crumple zones and airbags, the fatality rate is higher for smaller vehicles. Also, while in a smaller vehicle, your visibility is reduced so long as there are lots of larger vehicles around. Finally, for better or worse, the U.S. is a much bigger country with a comparatively low population density, and the infrastructure costs for what you suggest would be significant. Right now, Americans won’t pay to maintain what we’ve already built, let alone make significant improvements — and that’s really the bigger problem.

      1. Hanneke says:

        I understand, driving a small car while hemmed in by big trucks feels very unsafe, and such feelings play an important role in people’s decisions.

        I had hopes the money allocated in the newly passed infrastructure bill could lead to improvements, if people know they are possible, agitate and plan for them. If a road gets resurfaced because it’s full of potholes, that is the best time to look at its lay-out and improve on that.
        And infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists is a lot cheaper to build and to maintain, if heavy vehicles aren’t allowed to drive there and damage it. As Copenhagen’s planner has said, the city was nearly bankrupt when they started building cycle lanes – they could not afford to build more car lanes, and it has helped their budget as well as quality of life a lot.

        Even in the Netherlands, it usually takes between 20 and 40 years for a newly renovated road to be re-done. So if old mistakes get baked in now, with this big spending impulse on infrastructure, it will likely take another 40 years to undo the damage, all the while costing the residents more money than necessary to keep up the mainenance, or repair the damage after they have let the maintenance slip to an unusable level.

        Done right, this stuff makes long-term financial sense as well as environmental and health sense. But it’s hard for people to look at alternatives if they don’t know they exist, and don’t immediately recognise how those could relate positively to their own situation.

        Like, why invest in a large and fast rail network, when I’m not going to go by train? But if a lot of cargo could be moved a lot more places, cheaper and faster than by truck, the highways would get a lot less crowded with big trucks and might feel safe enough to buy a smaller, cheaper car that gets more miles to the gallon next time.

  9. Hanneke says:

    If you’re interested in some numbers and a better explanation, you might like to read this article:

    The difference in fatality rates for pedestrians is 23 per million in the Netherlands vs. 686 per million in the US, and though for drivers the difference is less pronounced, it’s still a lot higher in the US.
    70% less traffic deaths each and every year is a lot of people!

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