It often starts at the stop sign.

Photography by Chuck Ramsay

I live near the point where the Missouri Botanical Garden and Tower Grove Park meet; and I try to walk here and there as often as possible. It’s healthy. That’s part of the allure to City living for me. And, it also puts me in the role of pedestrian. But, even when driving a car, it’s easy to notice that most drivers prefer the “rolling stop” at stop signs and often stop lights to coming to a full stop – “one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi.” A proper stop takes just a tad longer, but by obeying a stop sign and all stoplights, you might save someone’s life.
It’s important to remind everyone, at this point, that traffic laws are usually made to protect others – drivers and pedestrians. It’s a public safety rule. After all, laws are just codified rules that we are asked to obey to reduce injury to those around us. People just like you. Sure, there’s some abuse in where stop signs are placed. St. Louis is famous for having signs at the end of streets where aldermen, council members and other politicos live. But that doesn’t cancel out the importance of that one stop sign you might choose to ignore because you are in a hurry. If a child chasing a ball into the street is not watching, you should be. Being in a hurry is no excuse for hitting a child or a bicycle rider or an older adult with your car.
Yet it goes deeper than this. I suspect there is data out there that tells us that when we “rationalize” that it’s okay to break a traffic law once in awhile, it also leads to us making a conscious decision that other rules and laws are okay to ignore – as a matter of principle or privilege. What do you think? Shoplifting something inexpensive, speeding in and out of traffic because your patience level is challenged, cursing at the person ahead of you because you think they are driving too slow. Where do we draw the line and become law-abiding drivers and citizens again?
Or does our disregard for some minor laws lead us to easily disregard other more major laws? There’s some evidence that this is true. If it’s okay to drive 75 mph in a 50 mph zone; won’t it be equally okay to take that already-opened beer with us as we drive down to the QuikTrip for another six pack? Sure, you’re feeling good and you won’t have an accident, after all.
We are such an impatient lot to begin with. Our days and evenings are busy and we have a lot of demands placed upon us – at home and at work. Life is not easy. Making ends meet, even for those with great jobs and healthy incomes, can be touch and go when bills need to be paid. Life gives us a lot of other pressures too. Here’s where we often lose patience and where our petty (and often implicit) biases and prejudices, which everyone harbors to some extent, can surface. Behind the wheel, this often manifests itself as road rage.
Many of us have grown up being the victim of bullying; or perhaps we’ve been the bully on occasion too. Think about this.
So, if you are driving down the road and another driver unintentionally cuts you off, you have some choices. You can get a little upset, shake it off, and move on. Or you can get really mad, angrily unleash your emotions, call them a name, and if you are being particularly immature, fly into full road rage. This is when our inclination to become a bully can take over and spin out of control. Some major crimes have been committed by people exhibiting road rage – from assault to murder. Be careful. This is a far reach beyond rolling through a stop sign, but an easy transition nonetheless.
So when you pull up to a stoplight or stop sign, think about why it is there. In those few seconds, you’ve already stopped long enough to look both ways and proceed on your merry way. If you feel the pressure of losing your temper and speeding off, take one second more. Take a deep breadth.
You see, if we all acted a bit more rationale and respectful, and were a bit more patient at the stop sign, our lives in general could be kinder and better toward those people around us. You won’t know most of them, but I can tell you that most of them are good people just trying to get where they are going too – just like you, whether they are driving, riding a bike, or walking. We’re all trying to get somewhere safely.
Now all of this discussion about obeying traffic laws and resisting the urge to lose your temper and be more civil is all well and good. But, what has been happening in municipalities all over the nation where police officers exercising racial profiling pull people of color over, give them expensive tickets for minor infractions, often harm them physically, and, in some cases, are involved in the loss of life of the drivers and their passengers in even more unacceptable. I’m particularly thinking of Sandra Bland and all the others over the last few years. Stopping someone for a traffic violation should not be an excuse to harass or harm any citizen of the U.S., much less someone just because they look different than you. We must do better, and police officers who step over the boundary of “serve and protect” into harass and harm should not be wearing the uniform or have the power with which they have been entrusted.

Learn more about implicit bias and traffic laws:

 

What is implicit Bias?

 

How does Implicit Bias figure into social justice issues?

 

Take a test to see the extent of your Implicit Bias.

 

Why we have traffic laws.

 

Note: this article does not endorse or excuse speed traps and other revenue-only traffic law practices used by many local municipalities and municipal courts.

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