Nervous wrecks

July 7, 2016

Anxiety and confusion rule the road for many drivers 

Miles from nowhere

Residents of King Cove, Alaska, an isolated fishing village of 900, are pretty tense individuals.

Their hometown is located between two volcanic mountains in the Aleutian Islands, which may actually be the literal edge of nowhere.

There are no roads connecting King Cove to other towns, so it is accessible only by air or water. That can be a challenge if you need to see a doctor because the nearest hospital is in Anchorage, about 625 miles northeast.

To get there, residents must take a very expensive flight to Cold Bay and then to Anchorage. That’s bad enough, but remember that this is Alaska. Delays of hours or even days occur when the weather is bad, and it is often terrible. In fact, the airport is typically shut down for 100 days each year.

There is a medical clinic in town that can deal with minor issues, but the main complaint that staff hear about is anxiety.

Upwards of 70% of King Cove residents have anxiety about flying, so the clinic keeps a large stockpile of medication on hand. They even have a special vending machine for people scheduled to fly that dispenses two anti-anxiety pills: one for the flight out and one for the flight home.

For years, residents have been begging the government for a one-lane, non-commercial, 11-mile gravel road to Cold Bay, where there is an airport with a larger runway and fewer weather delays.

The problem? That road would have to go through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, and some bigwigs in Washington are concerned that it could harm the birds and animals.

King Cove locals are far less concerned with potential disturbances of the emperor geese and caribou than they are with the suggested alternatives.

Instead of plane travel, they have been offered a turbulent helicopter ride, being strapped to a gurney or placed in a crab pot and hoisted 25 ft by a crane for rough-sea travel in an ice-capable boat.

But one group’s misfortune may be another’s opportunity. Local sources report that return flights to King Cove are packed with massage therapists, yogis, acupuncturists, self-help authors, and a variety of other alternative healers, in what some are proclaiming to be the Great Anxiety Rush of 2016.

Signs of the times

Drivers in the United Kingdom are experiencing anxiety, but not because of flying.

The culprit? Totally pointless road signs.

The number of road signs in England has more than doubled in the past two decades, but that is about to end thanks to new legislation.

A Department for Transport taskforce is taking on what has been described as a “ghastly blight” of gratuitous signs by giving local councils new powers to take down signs that are eyesores or distractions.

The law aims to reduce roadside clutter and ensure that only essential new signs are placed.

Road signs in large groupings not only look bad, but they also take up space intended for pedestrians and can confuse drivers, causing them to miss the important messages while attempting to read their irrelevant neighbors.

Research shows that many accidents are caused by redundant or confusing road signs, with one in three drivers in the U.K. reporting a crash or near miss because of distracting signage.

But it is not just a matter of prettying-up the English countryside or increasing safety—the new rules will also save taxpayers $43 million by 2020, mostly from reductions in sign lighting.

Councils must now ensure that signs with messages like “New Road Layout Ahead” are taken down within three months of posting, which seems reasonable.

However, allowing removal of other signs such as residents’ parking signs or “repeater” speed-limit signs may lead to trouble. Some fear that the bonfire of the signs may lead to a flood of drivers appealing parking and speeding fines, claiming that they had insufficient warning.

Still, anxious and confused U.K. drivers will no doubt be relieved to see the end of such gems as “Traffic Lights Ahead” (when you can already see the traffic lights ahead), “No Footway for 1 Mile” (when there is a foot path a mere 5 yd away), “No right turn for next 10 m except at next junction and at Rufus Stone,” and the classic “Sign Not In Use.”

About The Author: Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news since 2000. The stories are all true.