Kuntz: Drivers need their mothers

BY KATIE KUNTZ | JULY 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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My mother always taught me that it doesn't really matter who's at fault in a collision, what matters is who's hurt. Because I do not own a car (I drive a moped or ride a bike), she reminds me time and again that in a battle between my moped and anyone's car, my moped loses. She'll not let me forget that the stakes are higher for me, so I must make sure I'm not driving like a fool.

Not everyone has my mother.

The rest of America has to rely on someone else to remind them to stay safe behind the wheel, and even if we don't want to admit it, we often use the government as a nanny. Although I love my mother, if more people would act responsibly, I wouldn't have a nanny government looking over my shoulder any more than absolutely necessary.

For example, the Federal Highway Administration has recently begun checking in on intersections and holding driver's hands through the left turns. The administration has adopted a new set of traffic lights aimed to help people make those left turns right.

Some may already be familiar with these new lights, because the Iowa Department of Transportation has installed the new safety lights at select intersections in Iowa City, Coralville, and Cedar Rapids.

Still, for those of us who have never been to these spots — or who don't pay attention while driving — I'll explain the new technology.

The technology includes three familiar lights: The solid green arrow tells drivers it is safe to turn left, the solid yellow arrow tells drivers the light will soon turn red, and the red arrow tells drivers to stop.

The new part includes one more light that I like to call "fourth light." It's just as unnecessary as "fourth meal," but it is catching on. Fourth light is a flashing yellow arrow which tells drivers it is only safe to turn left so long as doing so will not cause a collision.

However, if you've been driving a while, you may have seen the signs which simply say "Left Turn Yield on Green" — but those signs seem to have stopped working.

It is good that the Highway Administration tries to keep roads safe, and these flashing light upgrades are justified by data, although I wish people would just pay attention to the signs already there.

The administration conducted studies showing that the flashing yellow lights have been successful in reminding drivers how to drive.

John Yapp, an Iowa City transportation planner, said the flashing yellow lights seem to do the job.

"People pay more attention to a flashing light," he said. "These lights help people understand when they can go, which helps decrease congestion and lessens emissions from idling cars."

The fact is, however, that it does not matter so much what a light says, it matters what people on the road actually do. Even if I have a green light, I still want to make sure a child didn't run out in the street after his ball. Even if it is my turn to go, I can't just run over anything or anyone that is in front of me. Lights are helpful, but the really important thing is to avoid hitting each other — and that requires the vigilance of the drivers, not the lighting techniques of the intersections.

Driving is not something to which every person is entitled, and if you don't know how, don't get behind the wheel.

Cars are fun and fit into our lifestyles, but there is only so much the government can do to keep us safe. The DOT should not waste money on installing new lights; rather, it should re-evaluate drivers' qualifications and raise the bar.

Until that happens, it's the responsibility of each individual, with a little help from our mothers, to keep the roads safe.

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