Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Dealing With My Unkind Thoughts (About Other Drivers)

Let me first stipulate that I am not a perfect driver. I like to think that I'm fairly alert while driving. But occasionally I notice another car while doing a routine mirror check and I realize that I have no idea where that car came from. I certainly should have seen it during the previous mirror check, but I didn't. That kind of thing humbles me.

I also know I have some bad habits, like calmly hurling sarcastic invective at other drivers. "It's the long narrow pedal on the right, ma'am. I'm sure your car has one. Do you need instruction on how to use it? Or maybe instruction on how to use the gray matter between your ears?" "Look at how high he has that truck jacked up. You think he's trying to compensate for something?" "There's an idiotmobile. Some people are content to let others wonder whether they're idiots. Others have to broadcast it with their subwoofers." The other drivers can't hear me and have no idea that I'm addressing them.

I do have to be careful with my wisecracks, though. One day I was in the passenger seat as my son came up behind another vehicle. The back window of the Jeep ahead of us carried various pirate insignia. The rear wheel cover declared, "Pirate Gal." I remarked, "I wonder if that means she has a sunken chest." My son nearly lost control of the car.

My wife knows that I also generally consider the number on any speed limit sign to be the minimum speed limit. I'm pretty cautious about not going so fast that I'm likely to be pulled over. But if I'm at or below the speed limit, I feel like I'm going too slow.

Most drivers have pet peeves about other drivers and I am no exception. There are a series of driving habits that bug me. One of the biggest is the phenomenon known as rubbernecking. Why in the world is it necessary to slow down to look at the aftermath of an accident or even just a car that has been pulled over by law enforcement, especially when everything is already being handled by professionals? You can't help at that point.

My personal policy on rubbernecking is simply, DON'T. My driver education teacher (a retired cop) many years ago taught that the safest thing to do is to let the passengers ogle the scene while the driver studiously pays attention to the task of driving. That's what I try to do. It's not going to kill me if I keep my eyes on the road ahead of me instead of looking at the tragedy. But some (many) people seem to never have learned this simple lesson.

Last Friday afternoon we left the house in plenty of time to arrive at an engagement. But the freeway traffic seemed much heavier than is normal for a Friday afternoon. Not being a sports fan, I hadn't realized that many college football fans would be headed to the USU-BYU game. (Note to self: check with sports fans before planning to drive on the freeway in the evening.)

Before long we came to a stop in a long line of traffic. Then the traffic started moving bit by bit. Eventually I could see flashing lights on the other side of the road, across two dividers. Traffic on our side of the road flowed freely after that point. When we got up there I kept my attention on traffic. The riders in my car informed me that there was a minor rear end accident on the other side of the freeway. In other words, hundreds of cars had to slow down for nearly ten minutes simply so that some drivers could look at the minor accident on the other side of the freeway. Totally idiotic.

People tell me that Utah drivers are the worst. Oddly enough, I've heard that local drivers are the worst from people just about everywhere I have driven. I've seen those studies that purport to rank the relative badness of drivers in various areas. I think they're pretty much bunk because there are too many factors involved to arrive at an objective conclusion. And besides, the margin between the best and the worst is probably so small as to make the measurement meaningless anyway. The fact is that drivers everywhere have a pretty low opinion of other drivers around them.

As I teach my children to drive I tell them that they will not find in any manual the #1 rule of the road that they must absolutely obey in order to be safe. That #1 rule is that the idiot ALWAYS has right of way. I teach my children to ALWAYS yield to the driver doing something stupid. Upon learning this, one son opined, "That means that if I drive like an idiot ...." To which I replied, "Then you lose your driving privileges."

It's a fact that if there are vehicles driving on the road, there will be drivers doing idiotic things, like driving with a live animal on their lap. (See John Branyan's take on this in the following video clip.) Why not learn to deal with this inevitability?

Yielding to the idiot does not mean confronting the idiot. I explain to my kids that while it might be necessary to report a dangerous driver, it is not their job to enforce the traffic laws or road etiquette rules. There are crazy people out there that have no problem pulling out a firearm if they feel that you have insulted them on the roadway. It isn't worth taking that risk to satisfy your ego or sense of justice.

After all, since none of us is a perfect driver, we sometimes play the part of the idiot driver too. Hopefully this leads to humility and self correction rather than more stupidity.

Now, I don't think of myself as unkind when I insist that people sometimes drive like idiots. That's simply reality. It's good to learn to deal with reality in a healthy manner. Where I could use improvement is in the cutting remarks I privately make about other drivers. It's OK to note driving mistakes. But I doubt Jesus would take guilty pleasure in employing sarcastic wit or character assassination while doing so.

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