Right Turns on Red

StopLight1So, I’m sitting in my Prius, which is as silent as the proverbial church mouse, waiting for the traffic light to green up. All kinds of ideas are scurrying around in my brain as I sit in this right-hand turn lane, waiting for the signal and paying no attention to the traffic traveling in the cross lanes. Truthfully, there IS no traffic in those lanes. Still I sit, lost, as I said, in thought.

So I don’t move. Not that I’m against turning right on red, mind you. I do it all the time. But I’m lost in thought today. I’m in no hurry. And, quite frankly, I’m sort of oblivious to the fact there’s no traffic to stop me from turning. I imagine that, to another driver, I epitomize an old fart driver. Heh. Little do they know I’m about as assertive a driver as they’ll ever encounter. Just ask Charlie.

I guess the car behind me decides it’s his duty to remind me about the right on red issue , so he honks the horn, which flips me back into the present and makes me realize that, “Oh, yeah. Oops! I can turn.” So I dutifully begin that process. I glance to my left to check out oncoming traffic and slip my foot onto the gas. The Prius nudges its nose forward slightly, and we’re all good to go.

Apparently, I’m not moving quickly enough, because the guy behind me decides his plaintive honk must have gone unheeded. (Or maybe unheard. After all, I have gray hair. I probably can’t hear, right? Maybe he figures I’m a little-old-lady driver.) So he lays on the horn just to make sure I get the message.

Oh, yeah, I get the message. Loud and clear. I step on the brake, stop the Prius’ momentum, and sit back to await the green light. I’m fully present, fully aware that I could turn right on red, fully aware that I usually DO turn right on red, and just as fully determined to not budge.

So for about 30 or 45 seconds – which feels more like five minutes – I sit still while the car behind me (and, for a brief time, the car behind him) lays on the horn. When the light finally turns green, like all conservative drivers with gray hair, I decide it’s a good time to practice economic driving by accelerating slowly until I hit the speed limit, thus burning up much less fossil fuel than, say, that late-model Chevy and SUV behind me.

Now, it’s true that state law says it’s OK to turn right on red. (I looked it up just to get the wording right):

§17C-3-5. Traffic-control signal legend. “blah blah blah on red … may cautiously make a right turn.”

Notice that it doesn’t say you must turn right on red. It does say you may cautiously do so. You certainly don’t have to, and I can’t find any kind of mandate that requires it.  I’ve looked.

What I decided in that split second or two of car horn hell was this: I made a choice to stay put until the light officially changed, which was fully within legal limits. It was my choice – my legal choice – and those antsy drivers behind me actually had no business abusing their car horns. In fact, they had no business forcing their belief (that turning right on red is required, for instance) on me.

Since then, I’ve been doing some thinking, which is probably what got me into this situation in the first place. I really do love the Four (Five) Agreements of don Miguel Ruiz. And I figure I broke three of them with my passive-aggressive but oh-so-satisfying behavior.

  • First, I made an assumption. I assumed that the drivers behind me saw me as some old fart and therefore categorized me unfairly.
  • Second, I took things personally. Yes, I allowed myself to get pissed off about their behavior and to counter with my own.
  • Third, I didn’t do my best – I retaliated (though I have to admit it was strangely satisfying). And if you want to know the truth, I’m really not sure that’s a broken agreement because the Four (Five) Agreements also hold that my best will vary from day to day. So maybe that passive/aggressiveness actually was my best for today. If so, that’s OK because there’s always tomorrow, and my best will vary then, too.

Ultimately, my takeaway is this: I’m no more “right” to not turn right on red out of spite than those drivers are to insist that I do so. We’re all entitled to hold the opinion that turning right on red is good (them) or optional (me). We’re just not entitled to force those opinions on others.

Ah, what we all needed more of today was tolerance. And patience. Oh, and a little kindness wouldn’t hurt. For good measure, let’s toss in some real empathy. Maybe one day …

2 thoughts on “Right Turns on Red

  1. coachrevmark2u says:

    On the one hand, reminds me of T. S. Eliot in “Murder in the Cathedral” – “Which then is the greater treason, to do the wrong thing or the right thing for the wrong reason.” On the other hand, I love it. All of it! And it makes me miss Oregon, where the driver behind would simply have sat there silently and waited, or quietly and politely found a way to go around without bothering you. Great post. Thanks.

    1. Jennifer Crow says:

      Thanks, Mark! It’s funny how we find enlightenment in strange places, like turning lanes. I was so on my high horse over that incident … And then I realized I might as well own my share…

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