Punching Roof of Car While Passing Through Yellow Light

This informant recited a tradition which was very popular in my hometown. My hometown had a very dedicated car community where many members of our high school participated in driving cars precariously fast. My informant, a valid member of this community, retold a bit of driving folklore regarding one of the most dangerous obstacles in our hometown, red lights. More specifically, the changing of the yellow light from green then later to red. When driving at high speeds, it can be difficult to determine whether one can make it past the light in time or not. My informant said that sometimes the best thing to do is speed up and pass through the light, however whenever this is done you must punch the roof of the car for goodluck. This is also a way to pay tribute to the greater powers controlling the vehicle and paying homage to them for guiding the vehicle safely through traffic as well as slowing down the light from changing to red. 

Tracing the precise origins of this superstition is challenging, as it likely emerged spontaneously in multiple locations as automobiles became integral to daily life. The ritual reflects a broader human tendency to create and adhere to superstitions surrounding travel and transitions, which are moments of heightened risk and uncertainty. Similar to other travel-related superstitions, the practice likely spread through word-of-mouth and imitation, becoming a part of the collective driving culture. The yellow light in traffic signals serves as a warning, indicating that the red stop signal is imminent and that drivers should prepare to halt. However, in the fast-paced rhythm of modern life, a yellow light often prompts a decision: to speed up in an attempt to cross the intersection before the light turns red or to slow down and stop. The act of punching the roof of the car while driving through a yellow light is a ritualistic gesture that symbolically wards off bad luck or the potential negative consequences of making such split-second decisions. It can be seen as a way to ‘pay homage’ to the gods of luck and safe travel, seeking protection or blessing for the choice to proceed rather than stop.