Waiting at a Traffic Light

Here is the situation: Every day, often twice a day, I drive out of my development and make a left turn onto Concord Pike, Rt. 202, a major 6-lane highway. All of the good stuff seems to be on the left, away from Wilmington.  I am coming out of a small side-street and waiting at the traffic light with my left-turn signal clicking away. (Shown in the photo below, over the left-turn arrow painted in the street.) The wait at the light is often long because Delaware tries to keep the traffic flowing along the major highways. I like this idea because once I get onto Concord Pike, I will have fewer stops.

The Intersection

My little side-street continues across Concord Pike, and there are usually cars there, too, waiting to make a left turn toward Wilmington.  It is important for me to know what the left-turners plan to do, because when the light changes, we can both turn together, passing in front of each other without colliding.

But often, those cars on the other side do not have their turn signals on, so I am expecting them to come straight across. But when the traffic light does change, they suddenly flip on their left turn signal and pass by in front of me as I wait for them. Why do they wait until the traffic light changes to signal their turn? What’s the big secret? Are they trying to save wear-and-tear on their turn-signal?

(The maximum wait between light changes is only 1 1/2 minutes, but most passengers guess it to be at least 5 minutes.  It seems forever.)

But, one day, I found myself doing the same with my own turn signal, so there must be some underlying tendency in all of us to signal only after the light changes. My theory is that when we drive, we only think ahead one step at a time.

In my example, the first step is for the light to change. Then, the next step is to turn, and that is when we flip on our turn signal.

Now I am looking for other examples of this step-by-step driving habit. Perhaps this is all for the good. Perhaps this is just what we should do.

(Years ago, a secretary lived in an apartment building, actually a diced-up house, seen in the photo, on the left, across Concord Pike.  She said there were always accidents at the intersection.  Sure enough, I often see fresh accident debris against the curb: pieces of plastic, shards of glass, unidentified pieces of molding. Rarely are these accidents considered important enough to make the local newspaper, yet they sure made a bad day for someone.)

Note 2/17/2018: Only one day later, and I have already changed my theory. But that is my privilege at my age.

Now I think drivers only flip on their turn signals when they notice someone who needs  to know. In my example, they do not signal until they notice me in the intersection waiting for them. The signal is a form of communication, and, obviously, we only consciously communicate with people we notice.

This confirms what I have seen as a pedestrian. Pedestrians often go unnoticed by drivers, a lesson I have learned from my days of walking to work. Seen, but not noticed. I still frequently see this as I cross my own street on my daily walk for exercise. Parents are driving down our street to pick up their children at the Unitarian Church daycare, and theywill turn left into the church parking lot before they reach me. As I wait to cross, I see them from a distance, before they see me. As they get closer, they finally notice me and only then signal their turn. I assume the few who do not signal before they turn never do notice me, and that is scary.

When I drive, I always signal because I never know who may be waiting unnoticed in the shadows. At least I think I always signal.

This is a good example of Occam’s Razor that I first heard of years ago at Penn State. It is a principle that of two hypotheses, the one with the fewer assumptions is probably correct. Only “probably.” By this principle, this second hypothesis is probably correct.

(Often this principle is slightly misstated that the simpler hypothesis is probably correct. Occam was a 13th century English friar, so he no longer cares.)


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
This entry was posted in Popular culture and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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