This is a scenario that often unfolds in the hours of gridlock that thousands happen upon in holiday travel. I-75 on the south side, for example, may have bumper-to-bumper traffic in either direction for 20 miles. There may not even be a cause for the jam, but traffic is sitting still. Suddenly, that Cracker Barrel sweet tea follows gravity’s nudge and lands at the end of the line. You’re miles away from the next exit and traffic still hasn’t moved.
This may seem like an elementary problem that requires a simple solution. Most people would say to hold it or to pull over and go. But neither choice is that simple.
First, waiting to relieve one’s self is only a true option if there is an end to the traffic jam in sight. But despite the niftiness of “ETA” features on GPS apps and devices, those fly out of the window when a freeway is completely shut down. Just last Wednesday, a tractor trailer fire and ensuing cleanup shut down almost all of I-75/southbound in Spalding County for hours. This hullabaloo in the middle of the post-Christmas exodus created more than two-hour delays. It also created bad enough northbound delays that a total stranger Facebooked me to tell me that people were in fact pulling over to use the woods.
Even though I-75/northbound was open and technically southbound had one lane open, people had no idea when they would reach the next exit with bathrooms. And the further one gets from Metro Atlanta, the longer the distances are between exits. But before bonding with nature, there are a few things to consider.
First, most states and cities have some form of public indecency laws. People have gotten popped with tickets and even felonies for public urination in the wrong places. So if nature calls with urgency, people should make an effort to get as far out of view as possible. The best bet is to try to get to the woods. But if this conundrum occurs in an area not near some natural partitions, antsy motorists must make some sort of effort to cover themselves.
People often have a fellow passenger hold up a blanket or towel and use the car door as another barrier. Not taking this effort is not only inconsiderate to those also stuck in the mess, but it could subject the lazy urinator to a ticket. Remember that whole indecency thing?
Several years ago, a listener called me in the WSB Traffic Center, while stuck in a horrible holiday backup on I-85 northeast of town. The poor woman was in tears, because she really had to pee and was more than a mile away from an exit and not moving. I felt awful for her and admittedly had never taken a call about this kind of predicament. She asked if she could drive for a mile on the shoulder up to the exit or try and call the police to escort her down the shoulder. She really had to go.
I told her that she was far more suited to try and pull over and go in the woods. Driving in the emergency lanes is for true emergencies. Someone driving a woman in labor to the hospital is an emergency. Rescue units rushing to a crash scene is an emergency. Emptying 20 ounces of Starbucks from one’s bladder is not. And when one car drives in the emergency lane, it invites others to do so and blocks the lane from being used for true emergencies. Don’t do that.
Truckers often use empty bottles, so they do not have to pull over on long trips. I advise against this also. For one, this really only works for men. That aside, truckers are above others in traffic, so no one can see them do their business. A motorist in a regular vehicle may not cover all of their privacy bases, if they try to relieve themselves in a bottle. And then people are prone to chucking these “pee bombs” out of the window and creating nasty litter. Imagine picking these up. Gross.
This thought exercise here should at least remind us all to be prepared. Keep napkins and hand sanitizer in the car, along with some snacks and water, in case a traffic RED ALERT gets us helplessly stuck. And if nature calls for desperate measures, we should execute those maneuvers with as much modesty and consideration as possible. Yes, safely pull over and go. No, don’t throw bottles out of windows or drive on the shoulders to find an exit. Happy travels and Happy New Year.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.