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Dear Matt:

This question has puzzled me ever since I moved to Southern California. I am in my car waiting for the light to change to green. I am about 10 to 15 cars away from the intersection. From my car, I can see the light change to green, but the lane of traffic I am in does not move. I see the light change to red, and then my lane of traffic moves to where I am a car or two away from the intersection. How do you explain this seemingly parallel universe phenomenon?

-- Robert, the Net

And from what part of the universe did you move, Robert? The start line at the Indy Motor Speedway? Another case of outta-staters blaming every little glitch in the system on California's woo-woo reputation. It works the same in Bozeman and Jersey City and Fatback, Georgia, too. Assuming 10 or 15 cars could accumulate at a light in Fatback. Consider the scenario your question implies. There you are idling at a light, staring into the backside of the sport utility vehicle in front of you. In the hazy distance, the light turns green. You slam it in first and pop the clutch. You and the SUV become one. Notice how you can't move until the car in front of you moves, no matter what color the light is?

Now consider this real-world scenario. Light's red. The guy in car #1 takes this opportunity to find a Bachman-Turner Overdrive tape that's fallen under the passenger seat. Light turns green. Guy #2 waits three seconds, then leans on the horn. Guy #1 looks up, sees the green light, guns it (total elapsed time since the green light came on: 6 seconds). Guy #2 is right on his tail (TET: 7 seconds). Cautious driver in car #3 looks both ways before moving forward (TET: 12 seconds). Add 2 or 3 or 4 seconds in normal delayed-response time for each car in front of you, and the accumulated time at your end of the line can be substantial. If total time is 35 seconds, and the light is on a 30-second cycle, you'll have to sit through another one.

Most sensible people, wherever they're from, don't start moving forward until they see the car in front of them move. If this is simply intolerable, the next time you're stuck at a light, go from car to car ahead of you suggesting that each driver step on the gas the second they see the light turn green. Perhaps you can arrange for all 15 cars to lurch forward simultaneously. I want to be there to see that one.

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