Earlier this week, while I was researching a piece about the three-foot-wide Tango commuter car, I noticed that their website and brochure promote it as a traffic-beater, stating that “Where lane splitting is permitted… a Tango or motorcycle can travel in 20 seconds the distance that a car travels in 20 minutes.” In California, parts of Europe, and most of Asia, it’s legal to maneuver a small vehicle (like a motorcycle or the Tango) between the lanes of cars stopped in traffic. As someone who withers miserably in stop-and-go traffic (I’m not a patient person), I can see the advantage. I can also see how the drivers stuck in their regular, non-Tango cars, could get angry. While they’re standing frustratingly still in the parking lot that is I-696 on weekday afternoons, someone else is whizzing by in a cute, skinny little car, making it home in record time. Legal or not, the other drivers would probably start idling their cars at odd angles in traffic to stop Tango drivers from speeding through. I know for sure in Detroit they would — we’re utterly maniacal about traffic and cars.
Not that I could possibly afford a $108,000 Tango on my income as a freelance writer, but I thought it would be interesting to at least test-drive one for an extended period, say, a week. What would it be like to drive to the mall and not have to search for a parking spot, to just park in one of those left-over half-spaces? How would it feel to drive in traffic in this impossibly tiny, completely soundless car? Would I feel guilty zooming past cars stopped in traffic, weaving through them between lanes to arrive at my destination on time, maybe even early? I pictured angry faces, fists shaking indignantly, middle fingers wagging at me.
Then I wondered, is it even legal to drive that way in Michigan? I know I’d have to jump through a bunch of hoops to get a Tango registered here in the Motor City, but would it be worth it if I couldn’t even weave in and out of traffic?
“That wouldn’t fly here in Michigan the way our laws are currently worded,” said Sergeant Lance Cook of the Michigan State Police Traffic Services. He stated that it’s currently illegal to straddle more than one lane, or to try and squeeze by another car in the same lane. Before he hung up, he said, “If the Legislature wanted to amend that, it’s up to them.” For a moment it sounded like he was trying to pass the buck, but then I realized that he was, in fact, stating what should have been obvious — that there are a lot of places where a lot of non-traditional vehicles are not going to be easy to drive, lane-sharing or not. I imagine I’d be pretty irate if I did buy a Tango, went through the ordeal of having it VIN’d and registered, then got ticketed the first time I drove it. I’m excited about getting these unusual, yet completely viable, forms of transportation on the road. But what good will it do if they’re all parked because we can’t drive them, or impounded because we unwittingly drove or parked them outside of the law?
In my opinion, we, the consumers, along with the makers of these fine vehicles, need to be proactive. We need to find out how the rules are currently written, and if the vehicles we want to drive can function within them. If not, we need to ask our elected officials to make appropriate changes. I think it’s better to do it sooner, rather than later, before the drivers of these vehicles, and the vehicles themselves, are sidelined before they even have a chance to make a difference.
Also, quite selfishly, I think I’ll contact my state representative to see about updating the language of our traffic laws to include inciting riots by maneuvering tiny, speedy little cars between lanes that are stopped in rush-hour traffic. I think I’ll have to find another way to say it though.