Neither rain, nor fog, nor gloom of night can induce many Delaware drivers to switch on their headlights.

Unwillingness to comply with that simple and quite reasonable rule of the road is symptomatic of what longtime residents recognize as a massive deterioration over the past several years in the performance of those who travel on the state's highways.

Literally every time one ventures out, they are certain to experience speeding, tailgating, improper passing, lane jumping and a host of other violations -- either as a witness or a perpetrator. Those are so commonplace that aggressive driving and the use of an obscene gesture to signal that the driver knows

but doesn't care about having made a dangerous maneuver are the subjects of commonplace humor.

But there is nothing funny about it.

During 2003, according to Delaware State Police, 145 people died on state roads and streets; 8,895 were injured. In all, there were 21,019 traffic 'accidents'.

A bit of perspective: On average, there was one murder every 12 days -- one highway fatality every 2 days. There was one violent crime every 94 minutes -- one traffic injury every 59 minutes.

It doesn't take much insight to imagine the public outcry and the demand for immediate and drastic

Yellow caution lights are typically taken as a signal to 'step on it' to get through the intersection or complete a turn.

response if the state's criminals were as destructive  of human life and physical wellbeing as are its drivers.

If there is hope of finding sanctuary in stereotyping, it's miniscule. To be sure, visitors from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland have contributed, but four out of every five drivers involved in

an 'accident' last year lived in Delaware. That was one in every 23 Delaware-licnesed drivers. Just under 3% of the vehicles involved were large trucks; 69% were cars. A quarter of the drivers were under age 25; 6.5% were 65 or older. Female drivers, who make up 51% of the state's 591,800 licensed drivers, accounted for 36.5% of its 'accidents'.

The most contributing factors most frequently listed by investigating officers were inattention to driving, 24.4%; failure to yield right-of-way, 10.7%; following too closely, 8.9%; and speeding, 6.5%.

State, county and local police agencies made 119,724 traffic arrests, including those which involved just the issuance of citations. That is roughly one for every 5 collisions. About a third of the violations were speeding; 58% were 'dangerous' moving violations; and only 3% involved driving under the influence of alcohol or other drug. Anyone will tell you the ratio would be virtually miniscule were 'near misses' and collision-potential incidents included.

Most frequently ignored signs along Delaware highways are those defining the speed limit. Both drivers and law enforce have generally allowed 10 m.p.h. and that seems to be increasing.

The Motor Vehicle Division of Delaware Department of Transportation recently added to its Web site samples of tests allegedly designed to measure driving competence. A typical example of the multiple-choice questions:

This road sign means:
Be prepared for a sharp left turn ahead Image
Watch for people crossing your path

Slow down; work zone ahead

In case anyone thinks the for-real thing has to be tougher than the sample, don't bet your lunch money on it. A Brandywine Hundred resident recently renewed his driver licensee on the eve of his 70th birthday. The entire process consisted of reading one line of an eye chart, posing for a new photograph and paying $1.50. He was handed the new license and dismissed with a cheery, "See you again in five years." It would not be unreasonable to think that, by now, he should have had five biannual road tests and should now be expecting them every year.

Legislators obviously would not put up with that if the secretary of transportation so decreed and they are not about to enact a law which would require both elder drivers and teenaged novices to really

What it said What really happens

When you come to a STOP sign, you must make a complete stop.
A brief hesitation followed by a 'rolling stop' is something of a norm, especially in suburban developments.
Right turns on red are permissible after a full stop, except when prohibited by a posted sign or a steady red arrow is displayed. Left turns on red are permissible after a full stop from a one-way street. At most, there may be a brief hesitation; usually not even that if 'the coast is clear'
Signal at least 300 feet and, preferably, three seconds before making a move
Seldom used for lane change and frequently as the move is being made or after it has been made.
A dashed white line between lanes of traffic means that you may cross it to change lanes if is safe to do so. A solid white line means that you should stay in your lane. Lane jumping, particularly at intersections and when merging onto a highway, is common.


Headlights (not parking lights) are required:
After sunset and before sunrise;
Any time you cannot see beyond 1,000 feet;
Anya time you use your windshield wipers.
Failure to comply with this law is probably the most common 'rules of the road' voilation.
The left lane is intended for use in passing slower vehicles. It is legal in Delaware (but not all states) to pass a left-turning vehicle on the right, but that is dangerous and should be done only with extreme caution. Drives habitually drive in the passing lane and pass in the driving lane.
Pedestrians have the right-of-way in most instances. Drivers must yield to them. Pedestrians should cross only at crossroads or intersections.
The prevailing attitude when behind the wheel is that 'I'm bigger than you, so look out'.
SOURCE: Delaware Drivers Manual SOURCE: Delafoum observation

be tested. Only in the final hours of its just-ended session did the General Assembly agree to allow Delaware to become the 50th and last state to adopt the federal blood-alcohol standard for measuring drunken driving -- and, truth be told, only under a threat of losing federal highway dollars.

A few years ago, lawmakers rejected a proposal to have Delaware join major states like New York and other jurisdictions in banning drivers from making cellular telephone calls. They did so even though the proposed law was watered down to include just hand-held devices.

Having reluctantly approved the use of cameras to enforce stop-light law at identified dangerous major intersections, steps to employ existing electronic imaging technology for more widespread enforcement of traffic laws can be regarded as lying well in the future.

Posted on July 5, 2004

2004. All rights reserved.

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