Turn around, dummy.

My house is near the corner of a residential street and a major thoroughfare.

A few hundred yards up the road, the intersection with another road is being rebuilt into a roundabout. Consequently both roads are closed for 10 weeks while the construction is taking place.

The next major intersection is about a mile to the south, and there is a detour in place to route drivers around the closure. The road is still open for local residents (like me) to reach their homes, but there are signs and barricades. Specifically, to get to my house from there, you have to drive around one barricade with a ROAD CLOSED, LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY sign on it, change lanes and drive around another barricade with the same sign, pass a huge electric sign warning of the closure, and then drive past nine more bright-orange signs also warning that the road is closed before you reach the final three barricades blocking the road at the construction zone.

Do you think this prevents people from trying? No, it does not. My house is about 500 yards from the final barricades, and the main road is visible from the backyard. We sit on the deck in the afternoon, watch cars zip by, and make bets on how long it will take before we see them go back the other way. Or we go out to the corner where we can see the barricades, and watch them get to the end of the road, stop, pause for a moment as if wondering how such a thing could actually be real, and then turn around and drive off the way they came.

The reason the bets are so much fun is that about half of them drive into the nearby residential neighborhoods (ours and one other) looking for shortcuts to the crossroad. There are no such shortcuts, and the brand new NO OUTLET signs the village put up last week rarely make any difference. (If they didn’t see the barricades while they were slaloming around them, or the electric sign, or all the orange warning signs, it’s not surprising they don’t see or believe the NO OUTLET signs either.) You can make an educated guess on which cars will go full Magellan when faced with the actual road closure. Expensive sports sedans, high-dollar SUVs, and testosterone boys in sketchy cars with loud stereos often go looking for the Northeast Passage; mommy vans, old people in land yachts, and young women in economy sedans generally just drive back the way they came. Commercial vehicles and pickups are a crapshoot, though the pickups’ behavior seems loosely tied to whether they are working trucks with dents and rust or show trucks with stripes and chrome wheels.

We sit and watch and laugh. But I wonder what causes this behavior. We estimated about 2/3 of the cars that drove past on the first day we watched were turnarounds. How can it be that this many people, who presumably can read signs well enough to be issued driver’s licenses, don’t seem to understand that ROAD CLOSED means the road is closed? I don’t understand it.

4 Thoughts on “Turn around, dummy.

  1. Your vehicular sociology was interesting. One might wonder whether being a Master of the Universe makes one stupid behind the wheel (because sufficient self-admiration overrides the rules of physical reality), or whether Masters of the Universe are recruited from the ranks of the people who don’t understand closed-road notices.

  2. Squinty McGinty on June 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm said:

    Since when does a manly man driving a manly truck need to be concerned about whether a road is under construction? It may be closed to girly men in their Camry’s and Civics, but not to those of us with the testosterone to buy a truck – a man’s vehicle! Not for me!

  3. Obviously “road closed” doesn’t mean them. That’s a sign for everyone else.

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