Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Too Much Time, Too Much Traffic

Seems like this attorney and an LA Times writer both have too much time on their hands with little to do:

By Ralph Vartabedian, Times Staff Writer

When you are stuck in traffic on Southern California freeways, you can fume, listen to music or talk on the cellphone if you think that is safe.

But attorney Tamar Toister has a different pastime for those dull moments when traffic creeps along and the minutes seem to stand still.

"I tend to note license plate numbers as something to do," Toister said.

Being an observant attorney, she began to study the numerical patterns of the plate numbers.

"I have noticed something lately that I do not understand," she added in a recent note to The Times. "The new car license plates jump from 5H to 5J. There is no 5I. Why?"

A study by the Texas Transportation Institute found that the average commuter in Southern California loses 93 hours each year in traffic jams, the worst in the nation. Toister's question, prompted by hours of idle time, is an indication of just how slow traffic has become.The answer? DMV spokesman Steven Haskins said the state skipped the letter "I" in the 5 series license plates.

"We do have a regulation that I, O and Q not be used in the first or third place of the sequence," he said. "I suspect that is because of the fact that they could be mistaken.

"Presumably, the I looks like a 1 and the O and Q look like a zero.

One wonders whether the inmates at Folsom State Prison, where the plates are still manufactured, have noticed the sequence gap.

The convicts turned out 19.6 million plates for vehicles registered in California last year. Each sequence, which begins with a number, can produce 13,225,000 plates.

So there are a lot of gaps in plate numbers. But the biggest gap of all is the growing number of cars with no license plates at all. Haskins said every car is supposed to have two plates, but lately I've been seeing more and more people driving cars without plates.

It's mainly a local police enforcement issue, and it seems to me another example of the decline of routine traffic enforcement as police resources diminish. More reliance is placed on such technology as red light cameras and more police time is mandated for non-traffic duties.

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