Stream of Controversy
You might not want to hear it, but it really needs to be said.

People in Vermont: Don’t Know How to Drive

This is first in what may wind up being an ongoing series of articles about People in Vermont.

Let me start off by saying that it is Vermont State Law that you must stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk. This is particularly important because there are specifically marked crosswalks without any traffic signals or stop signs. They are merely marked by the generic “pedestrian in crosswalk” sign. I suppose that this is to indicate to drivers that there is a crosswalk present, where you are supposed to stop if there is anyone in the street. Essentially, it’s a conditional stop sign. (At least, that’s how I interpret it.)

And we can begin with those signs. First off, you would assume that Vermont drivers (that is, drivers with Vermont license plates—and, presumably, Vermont licenses) would know their own state’s driving laws, right? Well, apparently not, because most Vermont drivers do not stop at those crosswalks to let pedestrians cross. In fact, most out-of-state drivers (including Massachusetts and New York, which are common around here) do not. However, one notable out-of-state driver that stopped for me was from Connecticut. From my single trip to Connecticut, I know that they also have a similar law for stopping for pedestrians. (I think it might even be stricter—as in, you must always stop for pedestrians in the street, no exceptions. But I’m not familiar with the letter of the law, so I don’t know.) If this were the only problem drivers around here have, it wouldn’t be too bad. All you’d have to do is wait for the vehicles to go by, and then you can cross, since these signs are generally only in lower-traffic areas. Alas, though, it gets worse.

Not only do they not understand stopping for pedestrians and crosswalks; they also don’t understand the relationship between pedestrians and red lights.

But first let me digress a bit to note that there are no three-lane highways in Vermont. (I didn’t realize that at first, because my mind’s eye just extrapolates home streets, which have 3 lanes.) That means that Main Street, which also has a highway number of some sort, has only two lanes in either direction. Which means one must cross only four lanes of traffic to get from one side to the other, and there is a big enough divider where you can safely stand between the directions if you get stuck in the middle while crossing. In addition, at many of the intersections, there are those buttons you push to let the lights know that you want to cross the street. In return, the “walk” sign will chirp to let you (and, more importantly, blind pedestrians) that it is safe to cross the street.

So back to my story…. Vermont drivers do not understand the relationship between pedestrians and red lights. Obviously, if you’re stopped at a red light that just turned green, and there are people in the street in front of you, then they’re the leftovers from that red light you are stopped at. That means you continue to remain stopped until they have successfully crossed the street and gotten out of your way. This seems like common sense to me. People are crossing the street in front of you. Maybe they’re slow, maybe they decided to cross after they were told to stop. But it doesn’t matter. It takes less effort on your part (and is the much kinder thing to do) to just remain stopped while they finish crossing. But apparently people here can’t handle that concept.

And here’s my anecdote: I was walking to the corner to cross the street when I heard the chirping. I didn’t bother to look up, because I knew that that meant that the light was in my favor for crossing the street. So I continued across, not looking up. Apparently, in the process of my crossing the street, the light had turned green for the drivers who were waiting. However, none of them had yet begun to go (or, at least, were nowhere near where I was) and had plenty of time to let me finish crossing before there was any sort of issue. Instead, some idiot decided to honk at me from 100 feet away, bring me deer-in-the-headlights out of my reverie, and force me to run across the street. Sure, maybe I should have been paying attention to the lights (although I still cannot understand how the lights had changed so quickly; I didn’t think I’d taken that long to get across the street). But these drivers also had two options that they could’ve use: (1) wait at their stop line until I got across—you know that grace period between when the light turns green and the driver hits the gas; or, (2) they could have accelerated slowly as I finished crossing—it wouldn’t have taken me that long at all. But no, people in Vermont always have somewhere really important to go, here in this state where its biggest city has around the same amount of people as my meager hometown in New York.

But that is still not the most of it. When there is a traffic jam at that same intersection, people will run the red light just so that they can block the intersection. I mean, they don’t understand that a traffic jam means that cars are not moving. So you really do not gain anything by hurrying to get behind the car in front of you. In fact, doing so prevents the people who want to avoid the traffic jam by going in the opposite direction from doing so. Or those cars will make the turn into the traffic jam and block the crosswalk for pedestrians—who should be inherently unaffected by traffic jams caused by motor vehicles. But this is a minor story in the road leading up to what I experienced today.

And it’s important for you know before this story that those chirping crosswalk signs only chirp when they know someone is there—that is, only when the button is pushed. The crossing lights will still cycle, I believe, but they will not chirp. It is with that same knowledge, that I decided to cross the street at a crosswalk today that was down the road from the one I’ve been previously discussing, one that has considerably less traffic—it generally only changes when it knows there is a vehicle waiting in the side street. (It’s a T-shaped intersection, so that vehicle can only turn left or right to continue.) Now, I like to save time, if I can, by crossing at a nearby crosswalk if the light is in my favor, rather than waiting for it up at the main corner. So, when I got to this intersection, I noticed the lights for Main Street traffic were red, so, being a New Yorker who knows how to cross streets against the light, I decided to cross the street even when that red hand was solidly telling me not to. And, being alert this time, I clearly noted that the light had changed while I was crossing, and sighed as I resigned myself to waiting in the middle. I even let out a disappointed “oh, man” to myself as I did so. Well, apparently, the car in the left lane on the side of the street that I had yet to cross wasn’t happy with my decision. Despite the fact that I was safely stopped in the median, this car proceeded to honk at me and stop in the middle of the crosswalk. But that wasn’t all. Oh, no. Then, the passenger decided to do the whole arms-and-face “what do you think you’re doing?” gesture. That’s right: not the driver, the passenger. So I returned the gesture—this time with the meaning “you’re the one stopping traffic for no reason”.

So, yeah. That’s my experience with Vermont drivers. They may be all nice and polite when you see them in person, but when they get behind the wheel, they are the most inconsiderate and impatient people you will ever meet. At least in New York we’re mean all the time and know how to handle jaywalking pedestrians….


2 Responses to “People in Vermont: Don’t Know How to Drive”

  1. Yes, Vermont drivers are lets just say different.
    I am a Montrealer who drives down to Vermont for the weekend about 4 times a year. All was good until my last trip. I was driving on a 2-way street (1 lane each way). The car infront, myself, and the car behind were approaching an already red light. The car infront ran right through the red light. At this point I’m thinking either he’s in an emergency situation or just plain ignorant. As I come to a complete stop at the light, the driver behind starts honking at me. I look back at her and she’s even motioning for me to go. I know driving laws vary from state to state to province, but I would think the red light rule is universal. As I advanced through the red light, she sped up behind me and cut me off as if I had commited the ultimate driving sin. Until this day, I have no idea what rule I broke. Where I come from, people stop at a red light otherwise what’s the point of having a light. Why not a stop sign? I am tempted to try the same thing again just to see if there actually is a written or unwritten rule, or whether I happened to be between Vermont’s 2 most ignorant or emergent drivers. Better yet, I’ll just ask someone….


  2. That’s very strange. As far as I’m concerned, a solid red light always means for you to remain stopped until it turns green. However, I have seen people in both Vermont and New York drive straight through red lights when it’s late and there’s obviously no one else around. I don’t agree with that behavior, but I always do find it interesting how obedient we are to what is essentially just a colored light bulb.

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