Adding to the grumbling

I know that many people will be surprised to hear that I am among the folks grumbling about the Minnesota Department of Transportation plan to install rumble strips down the center of highways across the state. I think there is a perception that because I am sometimes a “motorhead”— enjoying snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and motorboats as often as I hike, bike or paddle—I must be supportive of all things noisy.

That is not the case. I have disliked these supposed safety enhancements since the very first time I heard and felt one—not as a driver, but as a passenger.

I was on a road trip and my husband Chuck was driving. I take my laptop along when we travel so I can work along the way. I wasn’t paying attention as Chuck wandered a little onto the shoulder of the road. I was jolted to attention by the loud rattling sound and the shaking of my little Chevy Equinox. I thought we had blown out a tire or something was drastically wrong with the undercarriage of my car.

It was with relief that I realized Chuck had just strayed onto the shoulder a little. There was a good wide shoulder and there was no traffic nearby. The rumble strip didn’t “save” us—it just scared me.

I didn’t think much of the rumble strips after that. I don’t think there was much of a problem when the rumble strips were just on the road shoulders.

But then they began appearing in the center of the roadway. And I started to hear complaints from people who lived near the highway. We got letters to the editor here at the Cook County News-Herald. I was ambivalent at first—until I had another encounter with the vehicle-jarring strips.

My mom and I were heading to Naniboujou Lodge for afternoon tea, chatting as we drove along. I approached another car that was traveling at less than the speed limit. I am a nervous driver and I don’t pass often. I’m content to follow someone unless they are exceedingly slow, which this car was, so I decided to pass. I stepped on the gas, which causes my little car to surge as it speeds up, and turned into the other lane to go around the slower car. And I hit a rumble strip.

The combination of my engine kicking into higher gear and my tires hitting the indentations in the road startled me. For a second I again thought something was drastically wrong with my car. I clutched the steering wheel tightly, ready to muscle it under control— until I realized it was just a rumble strip.

Mom and I both jumped—and I cursed. The rumble strip did not make me feel safer. It just startled me.

I got around the slower car and pulled back in, again moving across the rumble strip, feeling like my car was bouncing on the pavement. Maybe it is just because I drive a compact car, but I feel there is too much rumbling on these rumble strips.

Although there are some who feel center line rumble strips will make us safer, I am not one of them.

Although there are some who feel center line rumble strips will make us safer, I am not one of them.

I feel sympathy for the people who live near the highway. I’ve heard the noise of cars treading on the rumble strips twice now. Once in the Colvill area, where I was taking a picture of Kellys Hill Road to accompany a county board story. As I put the camera up to my eye to shoot the picture I wanted, I heard a strange sound. It’s hard to describe it, but it was certainly startling and annoying. I heard the noise again at my aunt’s home near Five Mile Rock. It was farther off in the distance there, an odd bleating.

I suppose a person could get used to the noise, like people who live near train tracks or foghorns. Unfortunately though, the noise of the rumble strips is random. Trains don’t run day and night and foghorns only sound on foggy days. Rumble strips down the center of the road will make a racket every time one car passes another. Which, on a long straight stretch on Highway 61, would be frequent.

Yes, the rumble strip could make someone look up from his or her cell phone, but do we all have to live with the annoyance of reverberating centerlines because of the irresponsible behavior of a few people?

I understand that hitting the rumble strip would awaken a dozing driver— but that theory needs to be tested a bit more. From having rumble strips on the shoulders for several years now, drivers have been conditioned to stay away from the rumble strips on the right shoulder of the road. Motorists know that the rumble means to get back in the driving lane by turning left. So isn’t it possible that a drowsy driver could hit the centerline rumble strip and instinctively swerve left— into oncoming traffic? The safety feature could prove to not improve safety at all.

I’d like to see MnDOT do a little more research to really see if rumble strips make our roads safer. And I’d really like them to do more research to make rumble strips quieter.

Everything in life is
somewhere else, and you get
there in a car.

E.B. White

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