New Orleanians have long suspected that our drivers (like our government) are completely ignorant of the law. There’s some basis in fact for this view. A 2013 study found that Louisiana had the worst drivers in the country.
“In the case of Louisiana they still rank 48th worst for the Careless Driving category (pedestrians/pedacyclists fatality rate), while also ranking 41st worst in Fatalities Rate per 100 Million Vehicle Miles Traveled,” wrote Jeffrey Crews, vice president of CarInsuranceComparison.com. “[W]hile Louisiana’s #1 overall ranking may be partially attributed to stringent enforcement of the law they still score high in almost every category we looked at.”
Of course, pedestrians aren’t much better. New Orleans is downright notorious for people wandering around aimlessly in the street – many of which aren’t even intoxicated.
Yes, it does seem like we have an unusually high number of scofflaws in our fair city. The municipal code seems like more a set of guidelines to people on our streets. Personally, I think it’s high time somebody compiled a list of laws that New Orleanians need to have burned into their brains.
Thus, without further ado, I give you the top ten most neglected traffic and parking laws in the City of New Orleans (in no particular order):
10. Pedestrians have right-of-way at all intersections. Many motorists don’t realize this (at least judging by their injudicious use of their horns), but the law draws no distinction between a marked and unmarked crosswalk. Hence, wherever you have two intersecting sidewalks at an intersection, there is a crosswalk. In crosswalks, pedestrians have right-of-way, meaning that they can proceed even it requires oncoming vehicular traffic to stop or slow down. The only caveat to this rule is a sensible one: pedestrians can’t step off the curb if there isn’t reasonable time for traffic to slow or stop safely.
9. Signaling (turns, lane changes, etc.) is not optional. This reminds me of an old article that once appeared in the satirical New Orleans Levee entitled: “Local man uses ‘turn stick.’” “A New Orleans man discovered what the stick on the left side of his steering column was for Thursday,” the article began. “It’s called a ‘turn signal.’” Let’s face it – New Orleans drivers are so bad about signaling that one wonders if they realize what the blasted things are. It causes a lot of accidents.
8. Vehicles cannot park within 20 feet of any intersection. Street parking is often difficult to find in New Orleans, so it’s understandable that some get a bit creative with it. However, most laws exist for a reason, and the reason that we don’t allow cars to park up against intersections is two-fold: 1) it blocks the crosswalk (see #10); and, 2) it kills visibility for traffic coming in all directions. I can’t tell you the number of serious accidents I’ve seen that were caused by parking violators who made it impossible for cars to see. It puts everyone at serious risk.
7. Don’t speed, and most importantly, go with the flow of traffic. Most speed limits in the city are reasonable and it makes sense to follow them. It’s easier to stop to avoid hazards if you’re not zipping down Magazine Street at 50 miles per hour. However, a corollary to this is that motorists shouldn’t drive too slowly either. Studies have consistently shown that major differentials in speed, even slower speeds, can be even more dangerous to vehicles in traffic than simple speeding. I know you might be taking family around to see the mansions in the Garden District, but that doesn’t make it appropriate to go 15 miles per hour down Prytania.
6. Pedestrians are limited to sidewalks and crosswalks. It should go without saying, but wandering around in the middle of the street – something that seems to be a national pastime in New Orleans – is obscenely dangerous. There are giant metal machines careening about at relatively high rates of speed, and they can’t always keep an eye out for you. It’s understandable that pedestrians will jaywalk every now and again when the street is clear, but in general pedestrians need to stay on the sidewalk where cars expect them to be. Otherwise, they risk winding up as road pizza.
5. Cyclists have to follow the same traffic rules as cars. I won’t belabor this point because it has been made before, but some cyclists need to stop acting as though they’re exempt from all traffic laws. No, you can’t ride against traffic. No, you can’t run red lights and stop signs. No, you can’t ride on the sidewalk. While I don’t advocate or support a crackdown on cyclists (because motorists are the bigger threat to public safety), they need to stop being prominent scofflaws.
4. Don’t run red lights. It’s disturbing that I even have to mention this, but I continually see people who think that they can just sneak by on a red light. Alas, traffic lights around New Orleans usually do not have any delay between when one direction goes red and the other goes green, so even barely running a red light can easily cause an accident. Worse, it provides superficial justification for red-light cameras that deprive us of due process.
3. The city is obligated to post proper signage. As much as I’ve been criticizing drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, there are also obligations on the part of the city that it isn’t living up to. I’ve passed numerous intersections in recent weeks where there was no stop sign on the right side of a one-way street, which could lead to a car barreling through. Other intersections lack street signs, which force motorists to drive around needlessly or attempt risky u-turns. Finally, although the meter maids don’t seem to care, the city is poor about keeping up readable “no parking” signs where parking is prohibited. Not only does this result in bogus parking tickets, but it also clogs streets.
2. Don’t straddle multiple lanes of traffic. I know the city does a poor job of painting stripes on streets with multiple lanes (in fact, I’ve written about it previously), but even when it’s obvious that there are at least two lanes, I often see motorists plodding around in the middle until somebody honks at them (usually me). Folks, just pick a lane. I understand you’re trying to avoid potholes and give yourself a smooth ride, but you need to do that from within a single lane of traffic.
1. Maintain a reasonable lookout. This is the most significant issue of all. Anybody who goes out on city streets and doesn’t pay attention to what’s going on around them is going to eventually have trouble. The degree to which people are oblivious can be downright astounding; I’ve had a person pull out in front of me when I was actually making eye contact with the driver – twice. This is much broader than just texting-while-driving or cycling through music. Some people don’t need distractions to zone out. But if you don’t pay attention, you can’t avoid hazards. Worse, you become one.
That just about covers it. Be safe on those roads, dear readers.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.