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Who's to blame for traffic trouble?

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Sunday, October 24, 2010; 12:03 AM

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In this election year, it seems that everyone wants to learn how the candidates plan to solve the area's traffic problems.

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People expect elected officials to solve the traffic problem as if it's the government that's screwing up. However, my non-scientific experience tells me that most traffic problems are caused by human error or by accidents that can be avoided by simple measures, such as paying attention, providing plenty of distance from your car to the car in front of you, and not doing other things while driving - phone, text, e-mail, and so on.

I don't understand when our fellow citizens became a bunch of entitled people, and it bothers me that we're always looking for someone else to solve our problems.

- Ray Hwang, Fairfax

I don't know of any reliable D.C. regional statistic or study that would show us what percentage of traffic problems are our own fault, rather than the fault of something the governments - the transportation agencies and enforcement agencies - either did or didn't do.

There's this anecdotal measure: About half the people who write to me have a governmental complaint - a mishandled road project or a mistimed traffic signal. The other half want to complain about each other.

Many people see an overlap. They say the design of some roads, or some merge points, can encourage speeding, weaving, tailgating or other forms of aggressive driving. Others say that law enforcement doesn't do enough to crack down on aggressive drivers and distracted drivers.

We're a lot better at identifying traffic problems than developing fixes. During the 1990s, concerns about aggressive driving led to laws that criminalized that behavior.

The manuals that our young drivers must study to get their licenses now include sections devoted to aggressive driving. The Maryland manual relates the inadequacies of our transportation environment to the bad behavior of individuals:


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