News of the Weird in Transportation
I've long been a fan of Chuck Shepherd's syndicated "News of the Weird," especially his many hilarious items about stupid criminals. Now this old cop reporter has stumbled upon a couple of strange candidates for Chuck's column from the wonkish world of transportation:
* New York City is installing "curbside haiku" signs to promote traffic safety. Written and illustrated by artist John Morse, the Japanese-style 17-syllable messages will be posted in more than 200 crash-prone areas near schools and cultural institutions. For example:
Two crash test dummies.
Check out all 12 versions, two of them in Spanish.
City officials maintain that innovative, off-beat, humorous exhortations to safety are a "much more effective" means of communication. Not everyone agrees. Said one New Yorker: "I find watching where I'm going to be very effective."
* Medical marijuana laws are touted as a potential boon to traffic safety in a new study by professors at the University of Colorado-Denver and Montana State University.
They found that traffic deaths drop nearly 9 percent in states that allow medical use of weed. "We were pretty surprised," said coauthor Daniel Rees. He and colleague D. Mark Anderson speculated that legal pot's safety dividend comes from young people drinking less in restaurants and bars and smoking more at home.
That explanation is supported by a 12 percent decline in alcohol-related fatal crashes and a 19 percent reduction in deaths of people in their 20s in medical marijuana states.
Another side effect: a drop in beer sales.
The researchers acknowledged laboratory studies showing that cannabis impairs distance perception, reaction time and hand-eye coordination, but suggest that slower, more cautious driving by users, especially the habitual ones, may negate the functional downside. Unlike the well-documented risks of drinking and driving, "neither simulator nor driving-course studies provide consistent evidence that these impairments [from marijuana] lead to an increased risk of collision," they wrote.
Whether or not pot smokers are safer drivers, the greatest gains in collision reduction will come from public goods like better signage, well maintained roads and diligent traffic enforcement.