Public health researchers have been tracking a variant of “road rage” in the Washington region, surfacing as a recent outbreak of Entitled Driving Journalist Syndrome (EJDS), a close cousin of Entitled Driver Syndrome. The latest reporter to fall victim to this nasty bug is WTOP’s Adam Tuss.
Those of you who drive have probably caught a mild version of EDS. You’re in the car. You want to get somewhere. There are all these other cars in your way. There are people walking slowly in front of you, and bicycles taking up the lane. You just want them to MOVE! And worst of all, all these governmental rules are stopping you from going faster!
According to Tom Vanderbilt, this is a natural reaction. “We are how we move,” he writes in Traffic:
When I walk, ... I view cars as loud, polluting annoyances driven by out-of-town drunks distracted by their cell phones. When I drive, I find that pedestrians are suddenly the menace, whacked-out iPod drones blithely meandering across the street without looking. When I ride a bike, I get the worst of both worlds, buffeted by speeding cars whose drivers resent my superior health and fuel economy, and hounded by oblivious pedestrians who seem to think it’s safe to cross against the light if “only a bike” is coming but are then startled and indignant as I whisk past at twenty-five miles an hour.
Governments, tasked with protecting all users of the road and mediating the disputes, tend to draw a healthy share of this ire. Speeding laws, for example, keep pedestrians and cyclists safe, as a pedestrian is almost twice as likely to die if hit by a driver going 40 mph versus 30, not to mention that the driver is more likely to stop or swerve in time to avoid hitting the pedestrian entirely at the lower speed. Yet to a driver, 30 often feels unbearably slow, and people naturally blame the governments that pass these laws and the police who enforce them.
Yes, these attitudes are perfectly natural. Unfortunately, Entitled Driver Syndrome (unlike its sister strains Oblivious Pedestrian Syndrome and Crazy Biker Syndrome) germinates and spreads more quickly through carrier journalists. These folks feel some of the same impulses while driving, then egg on their fellow motorists with columns that point the finger at others for the frustrations everyone feels.
This week, epidemiologists discovered a particularly virulent case of EDJS in WTOP’s Adam Tuss, who penned a series of columns which hit he double whammy of capitalizing on motorist frustration and financial insecurity at the same time. Each starts out by saying, “Money is something everyone is trying to hold onto right now, so why does it seem like local governments are trying to pick your pocket? This week WTOP takes a look at some of the tricky ways drivers are falling victim to revenue generators around the region.”
These poor victimized drivers have to contend with such “tricky” things as being ticketed for parking illegally or paying something slightly closer to a market rate for parking. The parking meter column, for example, exposes the absolute outrage that, as DC raises parking meter fares, some of the blocks still have the old rate, and sometimes the rates on a block change from the old rate to the new in a single day when DDOT gets the chance to update them. What a travesty. Government can’t move fast enough, so they’re moving too fast.
So far, none of Tuss’s columns have cited “swiping your SmarTrip on the Metro” as one of the ways government “picks your pocket.” One of the symptoms of EDJS is “transit blindness”: the afflicted individual seems to see anything that hinders the unrestricted, cost-free movement of automobiles (tolls, gas taxes, parking fees, buildings that are in the way of more lanes, sidewalks, rivers, etc.) as an unwarranted government intrusion, but that costs such as transit fares are just “paying your share.” There’s still tomorrow’s column, however, so we must reserve judgment at least until then.
Tuss’s EDJS fever reached its peak on Tuesday, however, with his article on speed cameras. That piece reached a slanted phrase to paragraph ratio exceeding 1:1, as he ironically referred to Maryland’s nickname, the “Free State,” quoted AAA’s EDJS-spreader Lon Anderson but no supporters of cameras, and even brought out the Norquistian big guns by concluding, “Some D.C. Council memebers have gone as far as to call the expansion of the program a “tax” on drivers.”
Tuss claims that “Questions remain about whether Connecticut Avenue — a six lane commuter route — is the proper place to have these cameras in place.” Questions also remain about in whose minds those questions remain, other than Tuss’s. Since he didn’t see fit to quote any supporters of cameras, here we go. Chevy Chase DC resident Kevin defended the speed cameras on Connecticut in Maryland on the neighborhood listserv, writing,
[The camera] has transformed the road to a safe zone for both drivers and pedestrians. This had not been the case in the past. A few years ago, my daughter and I tried to ride our bikes from our house on the east side to her friend’s house on the west side of the Avenue from upper Chevy Chase DC. It was a terrifying experience to get across the street at one of the corners below the Country Club. Cars would not allow it, even if we started when they were relatively distant. Now, cars move at a reasonable speed through that area (and even above Bradley) all because of the speed camera (and occasional squad cars from the Village police).
Resident Jane wrote, “A recent article in the Washington Post noted that since the speed cameras on the stretch by Chevy Chase Club were installed that accidents were down from 14 a month to 3.” These comments followed a question from a driver who had received a speeding ticket for going 37 in a 25, and was asking how to appeal. Most residents reacted with little sympathy, pointing out that the driver had been exceeding the posted speed limit by almost 50%, and citing the statistics on how pedestrian survival rates plummet as speed increases.
Unfortunately, Tuss’s infectious EDJS did hit some of his fellow journalists, like Marc Fisher, whose recent column calls speed cameras a “recession-proof biz” and dubs them “gotcha cams.” Let’s just remember: these cameras only “gotcha” you if you not only break the law, but break it by more than 12 miles per hour (raised from 10 with the recently-passed Maryland law). Fisher, to his credit, has a stronger immune system than Tuss, and partially recovers from his brief EDJS affliction toward the end of the column:
Surely more of us speed (guilty as charged, your honor) than commit many other violations, so speed cams hit a broader swath of society than some other such taxes masquerading as disincentives. But it’s also true that speeding kills, and this just happens to be one of those nice little coincidences in which cash-strapped governments get to do the right thing even as they soak the offenders.
Katherine Hill, immune to EDJS, writes about drivers who are protesting the law, blurring their license plates, and even assaulting police officers. She suggests,
Why don’t you just…not speed? I wonder if these same motorists fought the legislation before it was [passed], which is probably the most efficient way of preventing and stopping the installation of red light and speed cameras. Where was the call to arms then? The protests failed, and the cameras were installed. Maybe you could just drive safely instead?
One “family friend” of Hill’s even discovered she could avoid getting a ticket by stopping dead at the center of the camera’s zone. If she’s going from 50 to zero and back again, then she’s probably averaging less than 30 over the camera’s range. In other words, she’d get through the area faster by just driving the speed limit. This friend is clearly a chronic EDS sufferer, showing other symptoms like “lectur[ing] any one she sees jaywalking, standing top close to the edge on the sidewalk, or crossing against the sidewalk.”
Maybe scientists can take some blood samples from Fisher and Hill, with hopes of isolating the antibodies to create a vaccine for EDJS. Some of our more established reporters, like Tuss, Eric Weiss, and the Washington Post editorial staff really need it. They’ve lived with EDJS so long that they probably hardly notice the symptoms.