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Common Council, 8.20.19: Misperception

A portion of Wisconsin [U.S.] Highway 12 rings Whitewater. Called by residents simply the bypass, it takes traffic around the city, with a few points of intersection to Whitewater along the route.

A traffic signal at one of those intersections has had its own green light for a left-hand turning lane, and this likely causes drivers to misperceive the risks in turning left despite possible oncoming traffic. (That is, the green light in their lane may cause the drivers to believe mistakenly that they have a clear right of way.)

Two recent crashes at the same intersection along this route have been tragic: with multiple injuries in both, including two children (Kaylinn Wilken, aged 14, and Olly Koelsch, aged 7) dying in a crash on August 1st.

For every accident, there likely have been other near-misses, that might have been far worse moments but thankfully were not. Collisions would be known to all; near-misses might have been known only to a few.

State, county, and local political representatives met before Whitewater’s 8.20 council meeting and have begun changes to the intersection:

Local officials and community members met with Rep. Don Vruwink, Sen. Janis Ringhand, Sen. Steve Nass, Walworth County Sheriff’s Department, Captain Dave Gerber with Walworth County Sheriff’s Department and WISDOT officials this afternoon to discuss changes to the HWY 12/CTH N intersection.

Crews were replacing poles and signals today and this should be completed by the end of the week. By Monday, August 26th, the WISDOT will have installed a flashing yellow signal for Northbound and Southbound traffic making a left turn at the intersection. Cameras will also be installed to observe traffic patterns in the coming weeks. Officials will plan to convene this fall for a follow-up discussion about the intersection changes.

This seems a quick and prudent response. (It’s possible that, after further consideration, more changes will be made to the turning lane’s signals.)

It’s true (but inadequate) to observe, as a council member did during the meeting (video @ 12:50), that

The other things I wish people would remember from the basics of driver training is that when you’re turning left make sure the traffic coming towards you is making a stop.

It’s a misperception of behavior generally (and of drivers’ behavior specifically) to see the world this way.

It’s a mistake – of how people, themselves, perceive ordinary events – to expect that a lesson about paying attention would be adequate across thousands of motorists – year in, year out – at an intersection. Even the most prudent motorists might – for just a moment in a day, in conditions of weather, sunlight, traffic signals, or even the color of other cars – misunderstand the opportunity for turning.

While there is a cautionary teaching that says people should be careful when turning, careful people may misperceive a traffic situation, and that’s why one has traffic signals, and why these signals must offer easily-intelligible, safe guidance to motorists.

5 comments for “Common Council, 8.20.19: Misperception

  1. Attendee
    08/21/2019 at 11:37 AM

    Everyone is happy that something will be done. It sure seems like more will have to be done after they reevaluate the first steps.
    Great take on the value of traffic signals. Following a driver ed rule isn’t always so simple when a lot is going on. People make mistakes. A traffic light is obvious reminder IF it is the right light in the right place.
    Let’s hope this helps.

    • JOHN ADAMS
      08/21/2019 at 7:11 PM

      It makes sense to press on toward a more definite signal as a matter of prudence alone.

  2. Cathy
    08/21/2019 at 1:44 PM

    These were two good posts today. I’m glad when you wrote about the difficulties for women in Russia you pointed that that we also have problems like this in America. People need to be honest. We have similar problems right here in Whitewater.
    I also appreciate your perspective on the terrible accident outside town. It’s completely unnecessary for someone to offer a driving lesson at a time like this. Almost anyone could have made that mistake at a confusing light. This website is a complicated mix of conviction and intuition. On someone like Trump there is a completely assertive position (I agree that there needs to be) but on topics about injuries or survivor issues there is genuine insight and quiet respect. For a while it was hard for me believe that the same man wrote both. Now I think that the same man is exactly who would write both.

    • JOHN ADAMS
      08/21/2019 at 7:20 PM

      Thank you for your kind words. One blog, one blogger, in one small town, responding to people and circumstances as they present themselves. It would be a mistake, as you rightly imply, to criticize practices abroad without remarking on practices at home.

      If one seems to be a mixture, it’s because particular circumstances call – cry out, truly – for particular responses.

      My very best to you, Adams.