Is the light green? Go!
Green means go.
Go, car, go.
Except in Miami, the city of exceptions to societal norms.
Most places, when the traffic light turns green, drivers press the accelerator.
Here, when the traffic light turns green, the driver at the front of the line may not react at all, because he is distracted by his cellphone, or he will react in startled disbelief, as if the Skunk Ape has just jumped on his hood, or he will react in slow, casual, languid motion, as if there is never anyone behind him, the lights stay green forever and clocks don’t exist in leisure land.
Why are we constantly stuck behind green-light laggards? Do Miami drivers — known worldwide for being rude and incompetent — have a high rate of color blindness?
No. The root cause of this bad driving habit can be traced to obliviousness, the dominant trait of Homo Miamian.
“People here don’t pay attention — it’s a combination of talking, texting, daydreaming,” said Miami Police Commander Freddie Cruz. “In a heavily populated city, all those drivers who don’t go when they are supposed to go add all those extra seconds of delays, and it creates a domino effect on traffic.”
Green-light lingering not only exacerbates congestion but is a major source of road rage in Miami. Drivers who actually need to get somewhere start honking at the nonresponsive driver who is blockading a growing queue of cars. Then, out come the baseball bats, fists, guns, machetes, saliva, stilettos. Another day ruined on Miami’s mean streets.
A lack of urgency when the left-turn arrow turns green can mean the difference between getting through the intersection or sitting through another cycle or two, packing wasted time onto your soul-killing commute — and forcing you into that bitter tabulation of how those two or three minutes of dead time accumulate into hours and days and weeks imprisoned in your car. Tick tock. Some drivers seem to have no understanding of how quickly the window closes.
What is the proper etiquette on pre-honk courtesy time when you’ve got less than 10 seconds to get through a green? Two seconds? Three? Do you tap a “hey-excuse-me” passive aggressive beep-beep? Or do you lean on the horn and deliver an emphatic wake-up call?
Miami road warrior dialect has given rise to common green-light loitering insults and responses:
“What are you waiting for? A red carpet?”
“That’s it. Ramming speed!”
“This idiot is also surprised when the sun rises each day.”
“He must be sacándose los mocos “ — picking his nose.
“Pásame por arriba.” Go above me.
Green-light lag is just one of an array of driving peculiarities in Miami, where motorists either don’t know or don’t care about the rules of the road. We’ve got left-lane loafers who don’t comprehend that the left lane is, by law, the fast/passing lane; people who do not use turn signals, which is required by law; and yahoos who switch on their flashing hazard lights in the rain, which is prohibited by law.
The typical human reaction time to an anticipated stimulus such as a green light would be less than one second and, with an alert driver behind the steering wheel, less than half a second. Most of that time is used up during the perception phase and the rest during the movement phase — the time required to release the brake pedal and depress the accelerator, according to a report on reaction times by Marc Green, author of “Forensic Vision: With Applications to Highway Safety” and an authority on cognitive factors in driver behavior.
Compare to the starting gun reaction times of 2016 Rio Olympians Tori Bowie of the U.S., whose reaction time was 0.112 on her way to taking silver in the 100-meter sprint, and Usain Bolt of Jamaica, whose reaction time was 0.155 in his gold-medal performance in the 100.
But not everybody is a hare at the starting line. There are many tortoises, which is no good in the short run in Miami-Dade County, which has a staggeringly large number of unsynchronized traffic signals at some 3,000 intersections. If you dawdle, you will hit those lights that turn red on a whim. The county is modernizing its system by installing “smart” cameras that can change signal sequence timing in response to traffic flow, but it turns out the cameras are too “smart” to interpret the inexplicable and aggressive maneuvers of local drivers “who do what they do, which is not abiding by rules, laws or logic,” said Frank Aira, chief of the signals and signs division of the Transportation and Public Works Department.
Some cases of green light hesitation are born out of caution. If you punch the accelerator without a quick scan of the intersection, you may find yourself T-boned by a red light runner, or slammed by a late left turner scrambling to get through because he was trapped in limbo by the red light runner. Clueless Miami pedestrians who saunter through the crosswalk against the light make everybody wait. Street vendors and panhandlers weaving between cars also impede prompt forward movement.
“In fact, reaction time is a complicated behavior and is affected by a large number of variables,” Green said in his report. “Another major load on attention is the use of in-car displays and cell phones. There is no doubt both cause delays in reaction times, with estimates ranging from 0.5 to a second or more, depending on the circumstances.”
Florida’s new ban on texting while driving, which takes effect July 1, will provide relief from the traffic backups caused by drivers who dither. People who text and drive are eight times more likely to be involved in a crash, and there were 51,000 crashes involving distracted drivers last year in Florida, according to the American Automobile Association.
Texting or other forms of typing on a mobile device will constitute a primary violation. An officer can stop a driver solely for texting while driving. The fine is $30 plus court costs plus three points on your license, which goes up to $60 on a second offense within five years. No use of a handheld device is allowed in school or road work zones. Emergency messaging is allowed. But, texting when the vehicle is stationary is allowed, which means those red-light texters will still need reminder honks.
“The minute a ticket affects people’s wallets and driving records they are going to stop texting and start taking the demands of driving a car seriously,” Cruz said. “The new law is definitely going to reduce our traffic problems and save lives.”