OPINION: Building a culture of road courtesy

By Stephen Knight

Town Councilor Vinnie Testa’s request to have the Police Department attend a Town Council meeting was very appropriate, and the April 25 Record-Journal article of that discussion was very illuminating, if not also discouraging. It appears that it has become very difficult to enforce speed limits in town. Not only is it difficult, but some drivers actually refuse to stop when ordered by police, knowing that they will not likely be pursued. Equally appalling was to learn that some idiot drivers play games with the digital display speed signs and actually speed up to see how high a number they can produce.

Police Chief John Ventura nailed it when he stated in the article: “the driving behaviors of individuals, not just respective to Wallingford but the entire state and country, has progressively gotten worse.” To that, I answer “I’ll say!” My wife Cathy and I travel frequently, mostly in the northeast but also around the country, and we witness careless, sloppy, selfish, dangerous driving everywhere we go. Now, I admit to exceeding the speed limit on parkways and interstate highways, but, as a friend of mine who drives around southern New England for his job related to me this week, few drivers actual observe the speed limit on such highways, and you take your life in your hands actually doing so. So that’s my excuse, and I’m stickin’ with it.

In town is way different. I spend a good deal of time walking in town with a friend of mine, primarily within a mile of the town center. And we observe some deplorable driving habits. Because Wallingford is so hilly, speeding downhill is the most frequent offense. Ward Street Extension is steep and long. By the time all too many drivers reach the bottom of this 30-mph zone, they’re doing 45-50. The same for Cook Hill Road, Highland Avenue, South Main Street, and many other town roads. The wider the street, the faster the speeds.

Speeding in town is so much more dangerous than on the interstates for four primary reasons: pedestrians, intersections, houses with driveways, and opposing traffic. Interstates have none of those; town streets have all four in abundance. A car traveling 30 mph in a 30 mph zone takes 153 feet to stop; that same car traveling at 40mph takes 223 feet to stop, or 70 feet more. [https://www.omnicalculator.com/physics/stopping-distance]. And that’s assuming the driver is alert. Encounter one of those four obstacles unexpectedly, and that extra 70 feet to stop can mean all the difference.

And speeding in town doesn’t even save much time. Traveling 5 miles at 30 mph takes 10 minutes. Covering that distance at 40 mph takes 8 minutes. And that doesn’t even include stopping for lights, stop signs etc. Two minutes saved? You blast through town endangering everyone around you going 25% over the speed limit to save two minutes? Really?

And we aren’t even mentioning the other discourteous and careless driving habits: chattering on a cell phone, trying to beat a red light, drifting through a four-way intersection without coming to a stop, and my particular pet peeve: failure to signal a turn.

Of all the places my wife Cathy and I have lived, we have found Wallingford to be by far the friendliest, most welcoming place of all of them. We see courtesy and respect for others everywhere in town. Wherever we go, whomever we meet, we see this, and we are so thankful to be among such people.

But apparently our police officers are encountering the few who don’t meet that standard, and that “Me First” attitude that is so prevalent elsewhere seems to be creeping into some drivers’ performance on the road. I hope that they can find an effective method to penalize the speeders making our roads less safe. Parking a police car for a couple of hours on the side of the road doesn’t work. Shamefully, the digital display speed signs are ignored.

Our older daughter lives in Pennington, New Jersey, and their town speed limit is 25 mph. When I drive through that town, I marvel at how drivers observe that law. Everybody obeys that speed limit, because their police department is constantly pulling people over for speeding. I hope that our department can find the resources to start such a program.

There is an old phrase that reads “Courtesy is contagious.” A consistent program where drivers see other drivers pulled over for speeding will build that culture of courtesy on our town roads.

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.


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