[Jimbaux insists rather strongly that you put your lights on.]
A Public Service Announcement from Jimbaux
Warning: This Post Contains Intense Proselytizing
Some of you may have come to think of Jimbaux as being too preachy (and, perhaps, the “too” in front of “preachy” is unnecessary, since perhaps the word “preachy” already implies excessiveness) because of a few things I have written here over the last year. I’ve progressively come to abhor preaching – and to increasingly abhor it in myself – but I must speak up about something that has vexed me too long, especially because it’s so simply easy to change and improve, and because it could save my life, your life, or the life of your children. I’ve got a couple of pictures for you today that have several things in common with each other. Yes, they were both taken of BNSF trains, and they were both taken Thursday, but that’s really not the point at all.
Let’s take a quick look at the first picture.
Yeah, it’s the first time since March that I do the Chacahoula shot, and maybe only the second time ever that I do it early in the morning, which slowly brings us closer to our point. Now, let’s take a look at what happened about 12 hours and dozens of miles later, this one of the M-LALNSI slow-rolling into Avondale on former Texas & Pacific trackage in Waggaman.
Forget about the railroad, forget about the date, and forget about the locations. There is a phenomenon observable from these pictures that is highly related to the subject of much consternation as I’m driving around the roads and highways with motorists who do not realize that they are being inconsiderate, and instead of just simply always being pissed off about it and hopelessly trying to alter the behavior of others on the spot, I’ve decided to write about it here.
Yes, I realize that I’m being somewhat preachy, but my own and your safety and that of your children is at stake, and didn’t I warn you at the beginning of this post that proselytizing was coming in this post? Are you not listening to today’s song? If you are, this is about the only time that I pick a song that has no deeper meaning whatsoever. (Actually, there is deeper meaning to today’s song, but, again, that’s not the damned point, at least not for today.) Heck, all you need to do is look at the title of the song, and you’re done.
I’ll ask you something about the two pictures that you see. If you were looking at them with a bit less intention, and if you were standing about 10′ back from your computer, what is about the only way – or the best way – that you’d know that there is a train coming? Do you see where I’m going with this? Do you notice something that both shots have in common in terms of lighting? Wouldn’t you have much greater difficulty knowing that a train is coming if the the headlights were not on? Given that the sun is out for both pictures – but behind the trains – do you think that the crew would be able to see ahead even without the lights on?
Do you understand, then, that there is actually a far more important purpose for those headlights than for the crew to see ahead of it? Do you also understand that the exact same thing is true for the headlights on your automobile?
Yes, I know that “do you understand” questions are generally a sign of preachiness and judgmentalness, and, realizing that, that’s why I’ve done a very good job in my own life in the last two years of transitioning from “do you understand” questions to more “does that make sense” questions, as doing so forces me to not rely so heavily on the self-perceived righteousness of my perspectives, but, dammit, about some things in life, particularly when it comes to safety, life-and-death things, and how they can be so easily avoided, sometimes, it’s okay to be a bit judgmental, especially when I repeatedly see this stupidity occurring just in one afternoon alone. Does that make sense?
Allow, also, me to digress a bit, using some personal experience stories. Throughout much of my professional life, I have often found myself driving automobiles eastward around dawn and driving westward around dusk, meaning, in case you can’t figure it out, that I’m looking right into the sun, and that everything is therefore really bright or really, really dark – like your oncoming car, which I can barely see if you don’t have the headlights on. I have therefore become highly sensitized to the tremendous safety advantages that having one’s headlights on at any time the vehicle is in any gear other than park or reverse, and I drive such accordingly. To not do so would be, I believe, discourteous to other motorists.
I gather, from the feedback that I get, that most of the readers to this site are of above-average intelligence, and I do not at all wish to insult my readers, but in case there are any people of below-average IQ reading this (and, such could apply to you, since it doesn’t stop you from getting a driver’s license or accessing the internet), and that’s totally okay if there are (it doesn’t mean that I think such people are “bad people”), or if there are any really young people reading this, I’ll just break this down into really simple terms: your headlights do not exist so much for you to see as they exist for you to be seen. In other words, even if you can clearly and safely see the road ahead of you without your headlights on, they still need to be on anyway.
If the sun is at your back as you are driving, everything in front of you is bright, lit, colorful, and, most importantly, distinct from its surroundings, but please think about the people traveling in the opposite direction. You’re just a black dot against an already-dark background to them, as the sun fills the sky above you, making everything super-contrasty like it is in the above pictures. Furthermore, the people driving into the sun likely deal with the intense brightness by wearing shades of some sort. This makes the black dot that your moving car is even darker, and it gets even more dangerous.
Put your lights on, dammit! Please! It’s not asking much at all. It requires essentially no effort on your part; in other words, you have essentially nothing to gain by not having them on. Yes, I know that those things eventually burn out; I mean, I recently had to replace one after 100,000 miles of driving, but the $20 it cost to replace it sure beats having a head-on collision.
The railroads have figured this out, and that’s why they require that the headlights and ditchlights be on any time a train is moving on the mainline. There is an engineer on a railroad around here who gets quite excited every time he sees me by the track ever since he put the locomotive’s headlights on one one day when his train was coming out of the setting sun after he saw me repeatedly signal to him to put them on.
Locomotive engineers can face penalties from their employing railroads for not having the headlights on, regardless of the time of day (which is why I won’t even reveal for which particular railroad the aforementioned engineer works.) As you probably already suspect, I’m definitely not one for more laws, and I’m very much against the move afoot right now in the Louisiana state legislature to ban all cellular phone use while driving, but I would not be against a law the required that headlights be on at all times on vehicles moving on public roadways.
Now, I probably have to pause right here and interrupt the narrative, because some of you probably can not at all fathom how I can be vehemently opposed to the cell phone ban while strongly in favor of requiring headlights be on. (If you’re smart enough to not see the contradiction in that, you can skip this paragraph and the next one, and you can resume reading with the “There’s a big difference” paragraph.) First, cellular telephone use does not cause car accidents. It’s the people who violate existing traffic laws that cause the accident. So, because of people’s failure to comply with existing law, we put more laws on the books?? Their reasons for non-compliance can be numerous far beyond the phone use; they can be being immersed in conversation with others in the vehicle, looking out the side window, fidgeting with the radio, looking at a map, reaching and grabbing something. Should we ban those things too? Some things already are or should be illegal, like following too close or rapid acceleration and deceleration, as I discussed in December.
I actually use my cell phone quite frequently in the automobile, but I use it when conditions are right for it, and it’s rarely for an actual telephone conversation. By conditions being right, I simply mean situations that do not demand constant attention, that can’t have me taking my eye off of the road for more than a microsecond, not when I’m on some lightly-trafficked four lane highway, or when I’m slow rolling to a stop that is still very far ahead of me (remember what I said about rapid deceleration.) In driving situations that demand plenty more attention than normal, not only do I not use the phone, but I often turn the radio/music off and cease conversation with anyone who happens to be in the vehicle with me.
There’s a big difference, though, between not having one’s headlights on and things like cell phone use, looking out the window, fidgeting with the radio, etc. In the case of telephone use and other things, you actually have something to gain by using it, but what benefit is there to not having your headlights on? That’s probably the part about it that grates me so much; it’s just discourteous partly because it is so effortlessly easy to avoid. Requiring that you not use your phone in the vehicle might prevent you from getting some important information, especially the kind that might alter your destination while driving like making you turn around and go in the other direction, but how would a law requiring you to have your headlights on harm or inhibit you? Or, law aside, how would simply having them on inhibit you or harm anyone else? You already are required to have them on in the middle of the night when there’s no light in the sky. Does that cause any problems for you or anyone else?
In New Orleans a few months ago, I nearly had a collision because of this on one of the narrow residential streets in my Mid-City neighborhood. In this area, there are plenty of cars parked on the edges of the streets in front of people’s houses. I was making a left turn, but then a car moved across the intersection in the opposite direction from what seemed like a dead stop (and there is no stop sign from where this car was coming), and I almost hit it. Yes, I had been looking right at the road, and, yes, I had seen the car, but I had also seen plenty of other cars, all of them parked. This one was right next to the curb, just blending in under the oak trees and cloudy skies with the rest of the vehicles. Had its headlights been on, that would have told me that the vehicle was occupied, that therefore the engine was on, and that therefore I should watch out for it moving.
That brings us to the changing purpose of headlights. I’m sure that when headlights were first put on automobiles, the sole intention was for the ability to see from the car. Over time, though, headlights have come to represent the occupancy and motion of a vehicle to other vehicles. You don’t worry about a parked car cutting across traffic, do you? Bicyclist are expected and sometimes required to wear reflective gear. Why not visually alert others to your presence if you’re driving something with a tremendously higher amount of mass and a tremendously higher about of velocity than a bicycle?
Like headlights on the fronts of the trains in the above pictures, headlights on your car signal to everyone else that your vehicle either is moving or could begin to move almost instantly. Other motorists have plenty of visual (and other) information to continuously acquire and process. Please make that process a little bit less cumbersome – and, therefore, potentially deadly – by effortlessly making your presence known by having your own headlights on, all the time.
Atmospheric conditions likely change during the course of any drive. It may be bright and high-sunny when you leave (which is probably the time of day when headlights are the least necessary, assuming there is no cloud cover anywhere or very light cloud cover everywhere), but that could change fairly quickly, and you’ll forget that you don’t have the headlights on. Even if you’re driving into the setting or rising sun, in which case you are theoretically more visible than those driving in the opposite direction, you very easily and very frequently enter patches of shade, either cast by trees, buildings, etc., that make you less visible.
Actually, except for days of thick cloud cover, it’s actually more important to have the lights on on sunny days, due to all of the contrasts spread about. High thin clouds disperse the light without blocking too much of it, but, again, please have those things on all of the time.
Are you able to get all dressed nice for work and leave the house in the morning without brushing your teeth? I might forget or, more likely, delay brushing my teeth on a day that I don’t leave home, but it’s almost impossible for me to leave early in the morning after tucking my shirt in, etc., and forget to brush my teeth. It just does not feel right. So, something of a Pavlovian response prevents me from ever forgetting to brush my teeth on work days. Similarly, right after I turn the key in the ignition to start the car or truck, I put the headlights on. It usually doesn’t feel right if I don’t.
I finally decided to make this post after being highly frustrated in my attempts to get people to do the right thing on Thursday. To those traveling in the opposite direction (and coming out of the setting sun) that afternoon, once I finally noticed them (which takes longer than it should, which is the point) without their headlights on, I’d flash my headlights at them. Only once out of what seemed like two dozen times did it actually work. My efforts may seem foolish to you, but if I feel strongly about this issue, I must do something about it. That’s actually why I’m writing this post, hoping it has more effect than what I do in the field, but before you say that it’s not my place to tell the motorists on the highway to put their lights on, I will say that you are right, but that’s not the point. Apparently, the police aren’t telling them, are they? I surely don’t see it, and, furthermore, the amount of police officers I see driving around with no headlights on is about the same as the rest of the population, which is quite disturbing.
I guess asking police to be examples of safety instead of merely mindlessly following existing law that they have to enforce to the rest of the mindless masses is just too much, isn’t it? Can you please call your state legislator and tell him to worry about headlights instead of cell phones? something that’s far easier to enforce?
This is a big part of why I could not be a police officer. I would not be able to do anything about the idiot who screeches to a halt at the one-way-stop sign without his headlights on while he has the sun behind him and then blasts off from a dead stop as quickly as he screeched to a halt (all while staying under the speed limit), but I’d be expected to slap a stupid ticket at that same intersection to someone who approaches that same stop sign cautiously with very low deceleration and with his headlights on and rolls through it at 3mph once he determines that there’s nobody near the intersection and then slowly accelerates back to normal speed. To be blunt, with all due respect, that’s just stupid. More specifically, it treats the second driver (the cautious one) like the idiot that the first driver is, all while doing nothing to discourage the first driver’s behavior.
So, yes, I’m against one-way-stop signs too, and I think that they should all be changed to yield signs, but that subject is deserving of another post; like with the cell-phone issue, I only point it out here in comparison to the headlights issue to show the hypocrisy – or, at least, inconsistency – of so-called “safety” laws.
Some of you, then, would probably think that I’d be highly in favor of those “automatic lights” that are found in modern automobiles, but I have mixed feelings on those. Mainly, they, like automatic seat belts, treat all of us like we’re complete morons (like the disturbing cell phone laws do as well.) That’s insulting. The problem with the sensor that determines if they should go on or not is not dissimilar to the light meter in your camera; it gives you a good idea of what you’re supposed to do, but you really need to check for yourself. Of course, I said, just make it easy on everyone and have your lights on all the time!
Anyway, I do believe the solution to this is to have a warning signal come on once you’ve been driving around for about a minute, but I don’t know of any such thing existing. Do you know? I mean, your car can alert you when you don’t have your seat belt on. Shouldn’t it alert you when you don’t have your headlights on? And, again, I think that even though it tells you that you should have them on, you should still be the one to put them on, not the car itself automatically. I’m proselytizing about what you should do when you’re on the public roads when I’m on them too, but you shouldn’t be forced to have them on if you’re driving around on your own property.
I’ve probably pissed off some people with this, and there are probably some people who think (rather shallowly) that that’s my ultimate goal, that I somehow derive pleasure from that. I don’t. While I can relate to Eminem’s “God sent me to piss the world off” mentality, that’s not my goal. My goal is to get this very important point across. I’d prefer that nobody be upset about it at all – or only be upset with other drivers who don’t have their lights on – but my greater preference is getting this point of public safety across.
What I really want you to do in addition to putting your own headlights on and getting in the habit of having them on any time the engine is on is that I want you to use whatever influence you have over anyone else to make sure that they understand the importance of this. Maybe, then, when someone flashes headlights at them because they don’t have them on, they’ll at least know what it means.
Thanks. The next post will not be nearly as didactic as this one. Actually, the next post will not be didactic at all. It will be quite pleasant, and much easier on the eyes, both with a much greater number of pictures and a much smaller amount of words!
Until next time, I implore you, put your damned lights on! The life that you save may be your own.