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Stayin’ Safe: The Danger of Using Telephone Poles to Predict Road Direction

Eric TrowJanuary 03, 2017
Telephone lines suggest the road will go slightly to the right just over the hillcrest.

Telephone lines suggest the road will go slightly to the right just over the hillcrest.

In reality, the road veers left while the telephone lines shoot off on a different path.

In reality, the road veers left while the telephone lines shoot off on a different path.

Our brains interpret features above the road to help predict the path beyond our view of the pavement. Manmade and natural features such as rooftops, tree lines, embankments and, yes, telephone lines, all combine to form a mental picture that helps us envision if the road will turn, which direction, and even at what angle it will deviate. But when there’s just one visual reference to tap into, and that feature is a line of telephone poles, we can easily get our wires crossed.

Wrong Number

Unlike the hillsides and embankments that are fairly reliable indicators of road direction (since roads must go around permanent features), telephone lines do not necessarily follow the highway. They cross the pavement, stray down side roads and extend across adjacent property. When you dial in on telephone poles to predict direction, it’s easy to get a rude surprise.

Party Line

In my grandparents’ time, their telephone service was what was known as a party line. Any neighbor could access a common phone line and listen in on conversations. Everybody seemed to know what was going on. Similarly, when we have multiple visual cues to work with, we have a “party line” of information, making it easier to predict what will come next. Don’t rely on one visual source—always get the full scoop.

“Please hold”

No feature above the road provides a guarantee of what lies ahead. That’s why it’s important to establish an approach speed that enables the rider to adjust if things turn out differently than anticipated just over that hillcrest. Plus, there’s no guarantee a stopped vehicle or other hazard isn’t lurking just out of view. Put speed on hold until you can see the actual road surface beyond the hill. It’s the only sure way to keep from getting disconnected.

One comment

  1. Great suggestion to wait to see the actual road. One of the sneakiest places I’ve seen for telephone poles being a poor indicator of road direction is southeast Ohio. The roads are wonderfully snake, but power poles are much straighter. And because of the rolling terrain, it’s easy to make a mistake.

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