It’s easy to chuckle by the tenth or twelfth time you hear Southold Town Clerk Denis Noncarrow’s WLNG radio ad urging the public to “please drive slowly on our beautiful roads,” but his message is one that bears repeating this time of year.

When you’re stuck in a traffic jam and left with little option but to drive slowly, it’s easy to forget this advice. Inevitably, a break in the traffic will open up, or you’ll get to a favorite shortcut spot, and your foot will begin to weigh down heavily on the gas pedal. Aware that you’re already late for wherever you need to be, you’ll begin some fancy maneuvering to make up the time you’ve lost, slaloming down the backroads, relieved to have left the smoggy clogged intersections behind. The problem is that everyone else is doing the same thing.

South Forkers have long become accustomed to this reckless style of driving. Left turns can be essential, and it’s easy to believe only way to make them happen is to throw caution out the window and barrel through the smallest windows in the endless stream of traffic. 

When you add the parade of workmen’s vans and pickup trucks to the ocean of luxury cars driven by people who seem to have just figured out how to use their (automatic, no less) gear shifter yesterday, it’s not surprising that auto wrecks, often fatal, are a price we expect someone to pay for enduring the South Fork’s commuter corridors. But the thought that that someone could be any one of us should give us pause.

The North Fork has always prided itself on being a different kind of place, but when it comes to traffic snarls, we’re quickly catching up to the South Fork’s curse. Volunteer first responders had their hands full responding to accidents over Memorial Day Weekend, even without too many winery-going vans and buses on the roads. We expect those vans and buses to be a major part of the summer and fall landscape here, again, this year.

Here’s a little experiment. When you are tempted to gun it out into a tiny hole in a line of traffic, or to cut a corner to pick up a little extra time, ask yourself whether you would try such a maneuver with someone you love in the car, or perhaps with everyone you love in the car with you. We take all sorts of risks alone to which we would never subject our loved ones. 

But even if we are alone in the car, the people we love are still waiting for us, somewhere on the other side of the traffic, along with the people loved by everyone in every other car enduring the snarl alongside us.

Anyone who’s sat through a defensive driving class has heard about how little time speeding to your destination actually buys you, and few among us seem to be able to make the time to leave home five minutes early to avoid stressing about being late while we’re driving. But breaks in the traffic are more frequent than you might think. Clear sight lines mean the world. A moment’s hesitation before you commit to a turn could lose you five minutes to a solid line of cars. But your family will be far happier to have you come home five minutes late than to never come home at all. 

It takes a motherload of patience to put up with the burdens of East End summer traffic. In the end, all any of us want to do is to get home safely. This is something we can all play a part in modeling for those around us every day.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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