Last week when I was in California, I drove Highway 101 between Eureka and Arcata several times. It’s a short jaunt, about seven miles (11 km) of four-lane, divided highway (although it’s not quite a freeway because the intersecting roads aren’t grade-separated).
Unfortunately, it appears that the area has had a relatively high rate of accidents in the past, and so a five-mile stretch has been designated as a highway safety corridor, which mostly means that the speed limit is reduced to 50 m.p.h. (80 km/h).
But it also means that the segment is a daytime headlight area, so motorists are required to improve their visibility by turning on their low beams even in full sunshine. It’s not about you being able to see better—it’s about others being able to see you better.
I always drive with my headlights on, so I think this is a great idea. In my personal experience I can recall several instances where I spotted an oncoming vehicle with its headlights on before I saw a vehicle that was closer to me. Studies (review, report, report) have consistently shown that daytime running lights reduce accidents significantly, at hardly any cost.
So, to recap, the five-mile safety corridor between Eureka and Arcata, where motorists are required to use their headlights to increase their visibility and thereby improve road safety, makes perfect sense.
But then you get to the end of the safety corridor, where you find the following indication:
Now, the first sign (“End daylight headlight section”) is understandable: you need to let drivers know that they aren’t legally required to keep their headlights on anymore.
But take a look at the second white sign near the left edge of the picture: “Check headlights.”
Let me get this straight: for the last five miles I was required to use my headlights in order to improve road safety. But now that I’m no longer in the designated safety corridor, I’d better make sure they’re off? God forbid that I keep up with safety outside the safety corridor!
But maybe I missed something. Let’s run this through the Logic Machine™ …
Check Headlights: stop making your vehicle so conspicuous. That was so important over the last five miles that we had to pass a law to ensure your compliance, but you’d better stop now.
Uh, no that doesn’t make sense. Let’s give it another go …
Check Headlights: if you survived the past five miles you were being too safe. Please be less careful now.
Nope. How about this one:
Check Headlights: the last five miles were really dangerous, but we never have accidents anywhere else.
Yeah, right. One more try …
Check Headlights: please have an accident outside the designated section to make it comparatively less dangerous, and thus prove that the extra signs we put up were worth the effort.
To be fair, this isn’t restricted to California. I have seen similar signs in Nevada for sure, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them in Oregon and/or Washington too. And every time it makes me shake my head.