Why I Oppose the "Road Rage Act

>Today in Tallahassee, state lawmakers heard the first reading of Florida House Bill 177, the Motor Vehicles/Highway Safety Act.

While some portions of this bill sound like a good idea, I am opposed to its passage in its current form. Here’s why:

We have a lot of roads in this area that have two or three lanes of traffic flowing in the same direction. This proposed legislation would make it illegal to drive in the left lane if anyone else wants to drive faster.

Here’s a scenario. I own some property on the Nine Mile Road in Beulah. It’s a rural two-lane road where people routinely drive 10, 15, 20 miles over the speed limit. There’s been talk for years of widening the road due to increased traffic from housing developments and the Navy Federal Credit Union call center. It’s very unlikely that a turn lane will be installed in front of my driveway. That turn-in leads to three pieces of property and two are currently uninhabited. Other nearby driveways are the same. When you get to the neighborhoods and the call center, which are congregated east of my place, it’s a different story.

So, I get off the interstate and turn west. My property is a few miles down the road, on the south side. I have to turn left, and to do so, I take my life in my hands, because the, um, numbskulls that want to drive 70mph in a 55 zone certainly don’t want to slow down. They blow their horns, they pass on the shoulder.

If the road is widened to four lanes, my inclination would be to get in the left lane when I get off the interstate. It’s not that far to my turn, and if I get in the right lane, there’s a real possibility that I will not be able to get into the left lane when it’s time to make my turn. If they won’t slow down for me now, when there’s only one lane going west, what makes you think they’ll be willing to slow down or move right when I change lanes in front of them? The other possibility is that a steady stream of speeders in the left lane will effectively block me from getting over anyway.

Let’s look more closely at what the bill says:

1. On roads, streets, or highways having two or more lanes that allow movement in the same direction, a driver may not continue to operate a motor vehicle in the furthermost left-hand lane if the driver knows, or reasonably should know, that he or she is being overtaken in that lane from the rear by a motor vehicle traveling at a higher rate of speed. Paragraph (a) does not apply to a driver operating a motor vehicle in the furthermost left-hand lane if: The driver is driving the legal speed limit and is not impeding the flow of traffic in the furthermost left-hand lane;

In other words, if I’m driving the speed limit, I’m allowed to be in the left lane, unless someone else wants to race past me. Then I’m required to make it easier for the speeder to break the law.

2. The driver is in the process of overtaking a slower motor vehicle in the adjacent right-hand lane for the purpose of passing the slower moving vehicle so that the driver may move to the adjacent right-hand lane;

Now wait. If there’s a bus or an older person driving less than the speed limit in the right lane, I’m allowed to pass on the left. But am I required to wait until all the Speedy Gonzalezes are past before I can move into the left lane? Can I impede someone else in order to avoid being impeded?

3. Conditions make the flow of traffic substantially the same in all lanes or preclude the driver from moving to the adjacent right-hand lane;

I guess if both lanes of traffic are moving at about the same speed, it doesn’t matter which lane I’m in. But, if only speeders are supposed to use the left lane, then how did the traffic get backed up in that lane?

4. The driver’s movement to the adjacent right-hand lane could endanger the driver or other drivers;

Okay, I’m not required to hit another vehicle in order to get out of Speedy’s way.

5. The driver is directed by a law enforcement officer, road sign, or road crew to remain in the furthermost left-hand lane; or

I hope this includes Florida’s mandatory rule that you move into the left lane when passing a law enforcement or emergency vehicle parked on the right shoulder.

6. The driver is preparing to make a left turn.

Ah, here we go. I’m allowed to be in the left lane to make a left turn. From I-10 to my turn on Nine Mile Road, it’s probably two or three miles. Is that too soon? Is five miles away too soon to get in the left lane, if I know that traffic usually gets heavier near where I need to make my turn?

Moving on, the next section is pretty convoluted with statute numbers, so I’ve removed most of those to make it easier reading.

Section 5. Section 316.1923, Florida Statutes, is amended to read:
Aggressive careless driving.
(1) “Aggressive careless driving” means committing three, two or more of the following acts simultaneously or in succession:
(a)(1) Exceeding the posted speed;
(b)(2) Unsafely or improperly changing lanes;
(c)(3) Following another vehicle too closely;
(d)(4) Failing to yield the right-of-way;
(e)(5) Improperly passing or failing to yield to overtaking vehicles;
(f)(6) Violating traffic control and signal devices.

A few years ago, a truck full of people who I don’t think had been driving in this country for long, was weaving in and out of its lane and, I felt, putting me at risk. I sped up a little to get past them. It was a 45 zone dropping to a 30 zone and there’s a traffic light in the middle that was yellow when I passed under it.

The truck full of immigrants turned left.

The policeman hiding on a side street pulled me over and ticketed me for speeding and for speeding up to run a red light.

He was old, his hands were shaking so much I’m surprised he was able to write the ticket, and he gave me no opportunity to speak. I wanted to fight the red light portion of the ticket in court, but my husband was certain the judge would take the cop’s side over mine in a he said/she said, and we’d have to pay court costs on top of the tickets.

So, under the proposed legislation, I would have received an additional ticket for Aggressive Careless Driving. The immigrants would have qualified for the same and were certainly driving more dangerously than I was, but I was the easy catch.

And that’s what’s going to happen with this law. A law enforcement officer looking to boost his ticket count at the end of the month is going to be looking for an easy mark so he can tack on that extra “road rage” ticket.

The rest of the month, law enforcement personnel will do what they do now. They’ll talk on their cell phones while vehicles race through red lights in front of them. They’ll ignore the tailgaters and the speeders, and they won’t even bother to use their own turn signals.

If there’s any chance the driver really is exhibiting signs of road rage, they’ll quickly turn off, because they won’t want to deal with someone who’s already steaming mad even before they see the blue lights in their rear view mirrors.

If lawmakers really want to cut down on dangerous driving, here’s what they’ll do:

  • Make it easier for drivers to report the reckless behavior of other drivers. I don’t think law enforcement does anything to investigate that kind of complaint right now. They can’t write a ticket based on a civilian’s report and the typical attitude around here is that the perp will be gone before they can respond, so why bother. The rule could be something like if they get six or ten complaints about a certain license plate number, they need to check out that driver, watch for him, and see if they can catch him at it. Road rage is probably regular behavior for that type of person.
  • Pass a law against using a cell phone while behind the wheel of a car. Period. No talking. Hands-free or not. No texting. No reading the message. No listening to voice mail. No surfing the internet. If you need directions, pull over, then make the call. If the phone rings, wait until you can pull over and then call them back. Unless you’re a transplant surgeon waiting for a donor organ, it’s probably not anything that can’t wait five minutes.
  • Encourage law enforcement officers to do their duty every day and not just the last few days of the month. If they put down their phones and pulled over the people who are twenty feet from the intersection when the light turns red and they still go through it, a lot of people would learn to slow down and stop in time, and that would help reduce the frustration that builds into road rage.
  • Conduct more license and registration checks – I haven’t seen one of those in years – and don’t advertise the locations in advance or allow people to turn around and get out of the line. The point is to nab people who are driving illegally before they cause a wreck.

This legislation is unnecessary. It’s somewhat ambiguous. And I believe it holds more opportunity to hurt the average person than to stop any truly dangerous and aggressive drivers.

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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