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Wake Me When I'm There

October 12, 2003

Separate studies indicate that drowsy drivers are a major menace on U.S. highways and motorists are spending more time on increasingly congested roads. The average American driver wastes 51 hours a year stuck in traffic, the Texas Transportation Institute reports. Los Angeles, always above average no matter what the study, has drivers averaging 90 hours of wasted traffic time annually.

Hello? No one, not even Jack Valenti, can survive on that little sleep each year. The solution is obvious: Cram more vehicles onto jammed roads ASAP to fill all space between cars and allow would-be drivers to get the rest necessary for safe parking at some future time. One little-known theory posits that fully half of L.A.'s traffic consists of drivers who still hope they can reach their destination today. The other half has given up and turned for home.

The Romans invented traffic congestion. Their road builders argued that adding a second high-speed chariot lane -- one for each direction -- would solve everything. Now, drivers caught in traffic must awaken every few minutes to creep one car length.

While they do yet another study of the 101 Freeway and then ignore its findings, we could try stopping all traffic for 15-minute power naps every hour; call it CalDoze. Red roadside lights would illuminate. All drivers would stop in their tracks; they're not moving much anyway. To help drivers drift off, the somnolent tones of Ross Porter would come on every radio station reciting Dodgers stats, especially ERAs. Then, wake-up alarms would sound on every overpass, indicating the theoretical possibility of movement. Such paralysis could also reduce the number of car chases.

Drowsy drivers are a genuine threat to safety. And cruise control is not the answer. New Jersey just awakened and added a new law prohibiting sleepy drivers. C'mon, be honest. Who hasn't been road-weary? Humans parked on freeways can get only so excited reading the back bumper of the car in front and celebrating its "Middle School Honor Student" with an earnest thumbs-up.

True, Americans are chronically sleep- deprived. This is largely because, in urban areas, the late-news weather forecast always comes last. Oh, and car seats. They're so comfortable now with heaters, massagers, tilt. Let's build car seats like wooden church pews. Medieval architects knew how to keep uncomfortable people's attention focused on what's ahead, even before commuter lanes.

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