In the pink: Drivers, like toddlers, are busy testing the rules around them
By Mary Croke marycroke@home.com


It's been a long time coming. Three years? Five years? I've been wondering if it would happen to me.

And now the news is in: I'm starting to run red lights.

Oh, they're not really red lights. They're just, shall we say, pink. Pink is a variation on the red-light-as-opinion theme.

Pink is the red that uncannily occurs as I will my yellow (and it's my yellow) to last just a little longer. Pink is what tends to happen when the habit of braking for yellows gives way to the habit of accelerating for yellows.

But don't worry about me. My conscience is pretty clear. The reason it's pretty clear is because my excuses are pretty much in place. And here are the things I'm thinking (to the extent I'm thinking) as I hurry through my intersection: "I still have time"; "That guy waiting to complete his turn still has enough time"; "I can't help it if the light changes"; "Everybody else does it more often than I do, and they do it worse."

Last but not least is: "I can make it!!"

In any event, everybody else is watching out for me. Aren't they?

This all happens because the common intersection in this era of entitlement is no longer a simple intersection. It's a minefield of self-deceptions. And while self-deceptions are always with us in one form or another, these put us absolutely at the mercy of total strangers and those strangers' impulses and whims. If some of our excuses are real whoppers, they're just the cost of doing business. In some sense it's really not a bad deal. They're the only way we get to do what we feel like doing without having to see ourselves as jerks.

And anyway, there's always a fudge factor in driving, just as there are endless fudge factors in living. Do I go five miles or 10 miles over the posted speed limit? Do I go faster or slower to let this other person merge? Is a rolling stop a good enough stop? But now the fudge factor applies extravagantly, and at every intersection, and at every light. We're like two-year-olds trying to figure out what the limits are, except now we get to drive cars and do important things like go to the grocery store or get to work. Does a light turn pink three-quarters of the way through an intersection? How about a quarter of the way?

There are no grownups to tell us. The ones we've hired to save us from ourselves are busy with more pressing issues, ones with clearer boundaries. What's a red light? Heck! What's a yellow light?

Now the fudge factor applies even to those of us who usually lack the interest and will to tough it out with our more assertive neighbors. No more sedately driving along minding our own business! No way! Now it's time to live by our wits, and the person with the superior reflexes wins. It's like playing video games (all that hand-eye coordination) but with higher stakes.

I'm not bored, that's for sure. Always I have an eye on my neighbors. Especially I keep an eye on the car in my rearview mirror, carefully assessing its position and speed, its behavior and apparent intentions.

I practically dance with it. The people in front or to the side I can usually stop for or get around. But I've been nearly rear-ended countless times for stopping at lights that were already red or were (even more outrageously) about to turn red. Vigilance has paid off so far, but I'm afraid one of these days my luck will run out.

A driver needs both.

I keep hearing about these cameras installed at intersections that are supposed to catch light-jumpers and runners. People talk as if these are brilliant inventions. They talk as if these will turn the tide of antisocial behavior, that they will return some order to our roads.

I'll believe it when I see it. People tend to do what they want to do, and they tend to get what they're willing to put up with. When enough of us have had enough - when we've had enough accidents, enough personal trauma, enough chaos - we will act accordingly. Not before.

Until that time, I will probably continue to run pink lights - maybe pinker and pinker because self-deception's the name of the game. And because I know nobody's going to stop me.