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Lane Lingo : Language of the Freeway Speaks to Fast--and Slow--Crowds

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While motorists can travel life’s highways and byways without knowing their Botts Dots, Round Robins, Deuces or X-Rays, being up on freeway terminology might make the snarl out there a bit more comprehensible. Maybe.

Here’s some of the language of the freeway:

Counting left to right

The California Department of Transportation numbers each freeway lane from left to right, the left lane labeled No. 1 and typically where fast traffic likes to travel. The No. 4 lane is the farthest right lane where slower motorists tend to drive. This state standardized lane numbering system clarifies for Caltrans workers, California Highway Patrol officers and motorists exactly where a problem lies, such as debris in the No. 2 lane (second lane from the left) or a traffic accident in the No. 3 lane (third from the left). In some parts of the county there are as many of six freeway lanes across, but no matter how many, the numbering always goes from left to right. If a new lane is built on the left side, that lane would become the No. 1 lane and the existing No. 1 lane would become No. 2, with all other lanes following suit.

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SigAlert

This term was coined in the 1950s for a Los Angeles radio disc jockey named Sigmund whose passion it was to alert his driving listeners to traffic jams and various freeway problems that severely deterred the smooth flow of traffic.

The idea of broadcasting hazardous road conditions caught on and other radio announcers of the era gave credit to Sig. According to Caltrans spokesman Tom Nipper, the SigAlert is sometimes called a Cigarette Alert because when traffic is backed up, motorists might as well stop their cars and take a cigarette break.

Round Robin

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If you ever see a CHP motorcyclist or patrol car zigzagging across lanes from left to right, this is a round robin. Officers drive in this pattern to slow down motorists because of some hazard ahead, such as debris in the roadway, a traffic accident or crews working to remove the remains of a traffic accident. CHP spokesman John Marinez says round robins are also used frequently near the U.S.-Mexico border to alert motorists to pedestrians crossing freeway lanes.

Deuce and HBD

Formerly called a 502 in the California Vehicle Code, deuce is the CHP’s new term for a drunk driving arrest, Marinez said. For expedient reporting purposes, officers also write the initials “HBD” to signify a motorist “had been drinking.”

X-Ray

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The origin and explanation for this CHP term is hazy, but it means transporting a woman off the freeway in a patrol car. Marinez says the code has long been in existence--even before veteran CHP Officer Craig Peyer was convicted of murdering a female motorist he had pulled over--but it is designed to protect the female passenger and the officer. By agency policy, an officer is required to call dispatch, say he or she is transporting an X-Ray and state the mileage on the patrol car’s odometer. There is no equivalent code for transporting a male off the freeway in a patrol car.

Roller

This is the term used for a vehicle traveling on the freeway that the CHP has reason to believe has been involved in a crime or is stolen or is being driven by someone wanted by authorities for questioning. A call to dispatch with the license number confirms the status of the vehicle and whether there are any warrants for the driver.

Hot Stop

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This is the stuff that television police programs are made of. Conducting a hot stop is when officers pull over a car and, with guns drawn and shielding themselves with their car doors, make an arrest.

Botts Dots

Working in his research lab in Sacramento, it took Caltrans engineer Elbert Botts three years (from 1950-53) to develop those little raised dots you find on the freeway that help mark the lanes better than paint alone.

However, it wasn’t until 1965 that Botts Dots were placed on California freeways, said Caltrans’ Nipper. The delay occurred because no one had invented a satisfactory way of gluing the dots down to the pavement.

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A study done two years after Botts Dots were in place showed that along with delineating the lanes better, there was a 41% reduction in accidents. Crossing over the bumpy rows got the attention of motorists drifting out of their lanes.

The longevity of a Botts Dot is between 5 and 10 years, depending on the amount of traffic they are subjected to. Including installation, the cost of one dot is $1.50 for the ceramic, non-reflective kind and $3.50 apiece for the plastic reflective dots.

Caltrans has developed a pattern of installing a row of four ceramic dots and one plastic reflective dot every 48 feet. There are 25 million Botts Dots on the freeway system statewide.

Grooves

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On Interstate 5 through the Camp Pendleton area, the shoulders of the freeway--not the actual freeway lanes--are deeply furrowed, and when a motorist strays into them, the noise is next to deafening. Grooved shoulders can be found in the desert, on rural highways and other stretches where motorists are most susceptible to highway hypnosis.

HOV, Diamond, Car-Pool Lanes

In most places in the county, there must be at least two people in a car to use these lanes, which are freer of heavy traffic and reserved as a kind of privilege for motorists who car pool. HOV stands for High Occupancy Vehicle, and the lanes are often denoted by painted diamonds on the road.

Rubbernecks or Looky-loos

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A looky-loo or rubbernecker is every motorist who feels compelled to slow down to peer at an accident or freak of nature occurring on the other side of the freeway.


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