smoking and yielding the right-of-way

In a way, the integrated use of Right-Of-Way is indicative of how evolved a society is. Coined as a phrase to allow people and businesses access to crossover land owned by others, we understand the current meaning mostly for its traffic control significance.  But the ROW concept has a broader essence.

In most states in the USA, if pedestrians are inside a well-marked crosswalk at a controlled intersection and they have the green “walk” signal, they are given the right-of-way.  Cars must yield.  In some states like California, pedestrians who step into uncontrolled crosswalks (no signals) are given the right-of-way.  It’s become a way of life — a sort of evolved etiquette.

Many public places have banned smoking for good reason.  We’ve advanced.  We’ve decided that smokers must yield right-of-way to non smokers.  The smoker who utters the “smokers rights” phrase is either a comedian or has a defective frontal cortex.

Right-of-way is a mentality.  We either yield it or take it.  We’ve agreed that we don’t have the right to scare pedestrians out of our way with a two-ton vehicle and we don’t have the right to pollute the air others breathe.  In the US, we’ve determined they are legal forms of “being nice.”

In the most populated country on earth (and many other countries) yielding right-of-way is in a different state of evolution.  Modernized intersections with beautifully painted crosswalks complete with signals giving pedestrians a green “ok go” signal and motor vehicles still dominate the right-of-way.  In the country where I’m living, not unlike the last C country where I had an apartment, if you are in a crosswalk with the green walk signal in your favor, you had better watch out for turning cars, because yielding right-of-way to peds is not a concept given much thought.  The heavier and more powerful the vehicle determines degree of “right.”  The more vulnerable you are means you better get the hell out of the way, even if you have the supposed right of way.

Last night I went to one of the restaurants I frequent for take out.  As I waited, one of the employees walks back and forth from the kitchen to the restaurant floor carrying food with a lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth.  It appears normal.  There are ash trays at every table, in every restaurant.  No one yields the right-of-way for those who don’t smoke.

Obviously traffic and smoking right-of-ways are two different issues.  One needs to be a give and take and the other (should be) a give only.  But in metropolitan areas over the globe, they are both major challenges affecting all of us, directly and indirectly.  They both boil down to a form of ‘being nice.’   It’s not that most folk are not nice.  It’s a cranial issue where the sensitivity node next to the logical node is not receiving the proper synapse to develop a connection. For both, yielding the right-of-way goes a lot further toward making that connection than does taking (that right).

We’ll get there.  The world is becoming more and more homogenous.  It only took a few decades for us to convince the world’s airlines that yielding to a minority’s smoking desires in confined spaces was not very bright.  In time, we might earn even more global leeway in the breathing and crosswalk right-of-way realms.


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