June 16, 2008

Blinkers & broken windows

With increasing traffic congestion caused by an ever-growing population of residents and tourists, driving on Central Florida's roadways is bad enough without having to share the road with bad drivers. I drive on Interstate 4 every day, and I have noticed more and more people changing lanes without using their blinkers.

What are they thinking? Perhaps that is the problem: They aren't thinking. They aren't thinking of the other drivers. They aren't thinking about safety, and they especially are not thinking of the traffic jams they will cause when their dangerous behavior results in an automobile crash.

Furthermore, I do believe that non-use of blinkers leads to a much bigger problem. Bad driving begins with not using directional signals, which eventually leads to habitual speeding, red-light running and aggressive driving. Not using a blinker helps create a culture in which safe driving is not valued and aggressive driving is increasingly permitted and pervasive.

The non-blinker epidemic is similar to the "broken windows" theory developed by George Kelling and James Wilson of Harvard University. Kelling and Wilson theorized that if broken windows in any given neighborhood are not repaired in a timely manner, they will help create an environment of social disorder, which will provoke more vandalism and encourage other crimes.

The theory was tested in the 1990s in New York City under the leadership of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, NYPD Chief William Bratton and David Gunn, head of the New York City Transit System. By strictly enforcing smaller crimes, such as subway-fare evasion, they created a culture of order. The result of their efforts was a dramatic decrease in the city's crime rate.

Applying the same theory to I-4, I have come to the conclusion that people who do not use their blinkers are dangerous. Their inconsiderate driving creates social disorder, leading to more reckless driving, which causes high numbers of automobile crashes. And as every driver in Central Florida knows, car crashes produce severe traffic james. On the other hand, blinker use encourages a culture of safety and courtesy.

Certainly, serious infractions such as impaired driving, red-light running and speeding deserve continued and increased enforcement, but a concerted effort to crack down on blinker violators could help restore order and safety to our roadways. As Malcolm Gladwell declares in his best-selling book, The Tipping Point, "Little things can make a big difference." If every driver were to use directional signals every time when turning or changing lanes, I am convinced our roads would be safer and less congested.

The next time you are driving on I-4 or any other road in the region, pay special attention to how may drivers do not use their blinkers. These people are rude, they are bad drivers, and they are to blame for many of the car cashes and traffic jams on our roads.

(This was originally published in the Orlando Sentinel on September 6, 2005. I'm posting it here to give it an online home.)

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