While I generally think people are not great drivers, the presence of a police officer will turn even the moderately skilled driver into a raving lunatic at deadly velocities. If you are like me, you have a thought like this every time you get pulled over: “Man someone is probably getting robbed or mugged right now and this cop wants to tell me about a headlight being out.” It’s a scary place out there and I don’t think traffic control via police officers is making things any safer. Here’s why.
Click it or Ticket (or die!): On the back of the police cruisers around here there’s a warning: “Buckle Up!” On billboards and road marquees there are reminders “click it or ticket.” Those are helpful reminders that you ought to be wearing your seatbelt. They shouldn’t really exist – I mean a seatbelt, as simple as it is, could be the difference between a little whiplash and being an asphalt omelet. Yet you and I don’t wear a seat belt for a number of forgettable reasons.
The real problem is that when you actually see a police cruiser you are suddenly aware that you are or aren’t wearing that seat belt. If you aren’t, then the first thing your going to do is scramble to get that thing put on…regardless of road conditions, weather conditions, speed, or traffic. That belt needs to be on and be on now because getting a ticket for that would be plain stupid. In your scramble to drive and put on a seat belt at the same time you become a swerving wrecking ball at 30+ mph ready to destroy all in your path. It will never cross your mind that driving like a maniac for 10 seconds and endangering all living things around you is totally not worth the $50 ticket you might get from the cop who was probably examining the better half of a jelly doughnut and not the absence of your seat belt.
Checking mirrors like a paranoid drug dealer. When you drive past that police car that is sitting in the vacant lot you just KNOW he’s gonna get you. You were slightly speeding, not wearing your seat belt, listening to your ipod, AND texting all at the same time. So as you drive past, you watch your mirrors for him to pull out. 5 seconds have gone by but you aren’t satisfied so you continually watch your mirrors ignoring all other things until that police officer is out of sight and you are sure he didn’t pull out to bust you.
The problem here is that you have been obsessing over a situation that, while imaginary, has you ignoring all the other things you ought to be giving your attention to. While you were watching your mirror like a teenage girl, you blew through a stop light, nearly plowed over a fresh litter of puppies, and ran the merging traffic into the ditch. But it’s not really your fault unless you really are driving like a moron. It’s really the presence of the police officer promising impending doom for the slightest of driving mistakes. It wouldn’t be so bad if it were only you, but every person driving past that cop goes into a similar mirror-checking frenzy. It’s amazing that there isn’t a 15 car pile up every time a cop is out with the radar gun.
We brake for no one (except the police): I see this happen all the time. Everyone is cruising a cool 70 mph on the highway until you get to the overpass where a cop is parked to nab that red corvette screaming through traffic like it’s the Indy 500. Of course your reflex action is to put on the breaks until you are traveling some speed that you don’t think you’d get pulled over for…or at least so that you are no longer passing anyone.
It never goes that smoothly though. It’s more like 15 cars freak out and start putting on the breaks to various degrees of slowing until the common established driving speed is nowhere in sight. And there’s always the guy who either missed the memo or doesn’t care and what you have is a HUGE potential for demolition derby. The thing that makes highway traffic work is that everyone drives relatively the same speed with very little deviation from the plan. That’s why there aren’t stop lights and stop signs. If the traffic keeps moving we’re all good. The whole thing comes crashing down when people are forced to put on their breaks. Usually this happens because of merging traffic due to poor road design or construction. So it really sucks when this stuff happens because a cop is sitting around making people freak out on their brake pedal in situations where they’d normally cruise right along safe and happy.
I only have eyes for you: When a cop is just traveling on the road he almost instantly becomes the pide piper! Nobody has the guts to drive 2mph faster than him and everyone seems to be on their best behavior. It sounds like a utopia of the driving experience except it really isn’t.
The problem is that when the police are on the road you start to think too much about your driving and all those lessons from driver’s ed come flying back in. How much space should you have between you and the car in front of you? How soon should I apply the blinker? When is it illegal to switch lanes? Are my hands on 10 and 2?! Cripes there’s a lot to think about when you are thinking about it. But you aren’t a good driver because you remember all those things, you are a good driver because you can drive without thinking about it and focus on other things that pose a threat to safety: the outside influences. When you think about driving too much, you are too prone to mess up because you haven’t had to think about that in a long time and you find yourself completely distracted unable to perform at your normal level – in sports we call this a “choke.”
“The problem is every now and then, particularly in high pressure situations, the explicit part of the brain that first learned those skills a thousand repetitions ago wants to come to the party, too. Your body suddenly reverts back to the technical, deliberate, awkward movements it took to learn the game. Suddenly, you’re thinking through the task (“step one, approach the free-throw line, step two, take 3 breaths…”) instead of just doing them in one lightning-fast, smooth motion. The ground ball skips off your glove because you’re trying to field it with a part of your brain that hasn’t played baseball since you were in little league. You “choke.” -an article I read
People need to continue to drive in the natural way they learned through tons of repetition…not by thinking through every single section of The Rules of The Road. So cops, please find other means to travel. Thanks!
Finally caught you! Could there be a more dangerous way to issue a ticket? Have someone pull off to the side of the road while other cars speed past you at break-neck speeds? This is a road we’re talking about, not a parking lot. I don’t care who you are, this is simply a stupid idea and cops put themselves and their perps in danger every single time they pull someone over. I think police should be issued a ticket every time they do this just as a reminder of how dumb it is. Don’t believe me, watch this video:
or this one
I’m not even sure how the next one is even possible, but it is:
I’m not down on police I just think there are better and safer ways of controlling traffic. Perhaps what we need are more highly effective signs encouraging better driving habits.