Here’s an interesting story for you!
Last Wednesday I drove through a red light on the outskirts of Storrington, here in West Sussex. It was at a road works, and the lights had locked onto red in both directions and were not changing. A two mile traffic jam resulted.
Once I had understood the situation, I turned my bike around and rode back to the lights, parked the bike and proceeded to direct traffic, like the good citizen I am. Within half an hour or so, with my encouragement, 200 or more other people had done the same and the rush-hour traffic jam was no more. It was perfectly possible to see past the road works (the works themselves were only the size of a large car with the two light masts set 3 metres apart from each other!) so there was no need for the lights, and as the nervous lady Community Support Officer turned on her heels I told her that I would be turning the broken lights sideways so traffic could flow again without me.
However: how is it that the CSO would not help the hundreds of stuck motorists but dismissed the problem with a wave of her hand?
Here is the conversation:
Her: “Excuse me sir, you can’t do that (me waving traffic through in turn, with drivers in both directions thanking me as they go past).”
Me: “Isn’t this what YOU are supposed to be doing?”
Her: “I’m not allowed to.”
Me: “But there are hundreds of motorists trying to get home. Everwhere in Storrington (a mile away) is blocked solid because of this broken system”
Her: “Yes I know. I saw the queue when I was in Tescos(!). It happens. I’ve phoned the traffic light company and the police. They could be another two hours.”
Me: “Well, it seems I’m not so restricted in what I can do to help these people as you are. I’ll continue to do this until the queues go, then we can turn the lights round so they face sideways. Then people will drive past without a problem.”
Her: “I can’t advise that. I’m not allowed to touch the lights. It is up to you. I’m just going to walk back to my Land Rover.”
And she walked away. And I cleared the traffic queues, made the necessary adjustments on my own, and everyone used their common sense and drove in turn past the parked-car sized obstruction without the slightest problem.
Yes, hundreds of drivers drove through a red light on Wednesday, including a fireman in his red car. I saw them. A few stopped, and pointed at the red light. I merely beckoned them on more ‘forcefully’ and they started again and drove on. And I wasn’t even wearing a yellow jacket.
Human beings are all too susceptible to mindless obedience. The Milgram Experiments and many like them have demonstrated that all too clearly. Robert Cialdini in his excellent book, Influence, describes the nature of social obedience.
And the moral to this story?
You decide, and write your comments below.