Motor myths debunked

Is using a center turn lane to merge with traffic illegal? It isn’t, but that’s not what they’re there for, city officials say.

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Just because you have a driver’s license doesn’t mean you obey — or even know — all the rules.

David Corliss is convinced that even the most certain of edicts can, at times, take on an entirely different meaning depending on who’s doing the transportational translating.

“Red means stop,” said Corliss, Lawrence city manager. “It’s not ‘gun it to the floor.'”

As drivers are on the highways this holiday weekend, perhaps the time is right to address a few less-obvious questions that tend to pop up every now and then in transportation circles — things that drivers think might be true, or wonder whether they’re serious, or even why something works the way it does.

Call them motor myths.

“One of the myths is that streets heal themselves,” Corliss said, chuckling at the absurdity of the thought. “That’s not the way it works.”

Some other myths that aren’t quite so easily dismissed:

No shoes, no dice?

You’ve heard it before, perhaps from a friend. Or your mom. Or the driver’s ed teacher all those years ago: Driving barefoot is against the law.

Not true.

“In Kansas, there is no law against driving barefoot,” said Capt. Art Wilburn of the Kansas Highway Patrol. “We don’t encourage it, but there’s no law against it.”

Wilburn knows of no laws in any state that would prohibit shoeless driving.

“I don’t know where that idea came from,” Wilburn said. “It’s one of those urban legends, or urban myths. But we don’t encourage it. Your feet would stay more uniformly on the brake pedal or accelerator if you use some type of footwear.”

And, no, wearing flip-flops or high heels isn’t illegal, either.

Front-seat Fido

Driving with a pet in the front seat may not look all that safe — that dog really shouldn’t be licking its owner’s face behind the wheel, should it? — but it’s not necessarily illegal, either.

But don’t start wagging too many tails just yet.

“Technically, if an animal were in the car running around and interfering with the driver’s ability to see or maintain control of the vehicle, it could be,” said Wilburn, citing a law that prohibits vehicles from being loaded with too many people. “Then again, you’d have to prove that it was interfering with the driver’s ability to maintain control.”

Such a citation would bring a $30 fine and $86 in court costs.

Center-lane directions

Plenty of streets in Lawrence have center turn lanes — Sixth and Iowa streets among them — and it’s not unusual to see drivers turn into them from off one side, accelerating until they can safely merge into traffic.

While that’s not what they’re for, the traffic pattern is not expressly illegal, said Sgt. Bill Cory, of the Lawrence Police Department.

“It appears to be legal,” Cory said.

Not that it should be, said Chuck Soules, the city’s director of public works, whose department sees that such lanes are installed properly.

“It’s not a driving lane,” Soules said. “You’re supposed to get over and, within a short distance, merge into the appropriate lane. I saw one guy drive at least three blocks in one. That’s not the intent.”

Pothole payment

Drivers frustrated after hitting a pothole at times seek reimbursement for what’s often even more frustrating: the bill for taking the car in for an alignment.

But can the city be forced to reimburse a driver for such an expense?

That depends, said Corliss, the city’s former director of legal services. As a general rule, cities in Kansas follow what’s known as a safe streets doctrine.

“One of the important provisions of the law, as it’s developed, is in order for a municipality to be held liable for a defect in a street, such as a pothole, we have to be placed on notice,” Corliss said. “Someone needs to have told the city that that defect exists.

“That’s also one of the reasons we have a pothole hot line: We want to know where those situations are so we can fix the situation.”

To report a pothole, call 832-3456. City crews review reports and make appropriate repairs as soon as possible, Corliss said.

Anyone interested in filing a claim against the city for damage to a car caused by a pothole may contact the city’s Risk Management Division, at 832-3010.

“If the pothole caused damage to a vehicle, and we knew about that pothole and didn’t fix it, there’s an argument that we have responsibility for fixing the damage,” Corliss said. “But in most cases, we’re finding out about the pothole with the claim.”

Big Brother isn’t watching

Back to Corliss’ original “myth”: Drivers understand that “red means stop.”

Many drivers, he said, mistakenly identify the small video cameras atop certain traffic signals as being capable of snagging them for running red lights.

Not so.

The cameras are not so-called “red light” cameras, which are used in places such as Kansas City, Mo., to photograph vehicles as they run red lights, then lead to a citation mailed to the car owner’s home.

Instead, the cameras at some Lawrence intersections merely detect when traffic is waiting for a light to change, then notify the signal’s controller that it should react accordingly. A green light could come sooner, for example.

“It’s there to help,” Corliss said.

Other intersections have smaller camera-like equipment designed to allow emergency vehicles to change signals so that fire trucks, ambulances and other apparatus can get to their destinations as quickly as possible.