Tooling Along in our Motorcars

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Have you ever been driving with children in the car and you realize that your reactions to dangerous drivers are setting a poor verbal example for them? While I’ve made a conscious effort to use the exclamation from Spongebob, “tartar sauce!” in the car, it hasn’t worked well, and I’ve realized that I sound like Walter Matthau when I’m driving: “Moron! Putz! Idiot!”

Today I decided that some introspection was in order. It seems that people’s driving habits have become miserably bad in the past decade or so, at the same time that I’ve seen manners and common courtesy plummet in the popularity polls. Our angst, selfishness, stress levels, and all manner of evil comes out in our driving habits, and I’m not saying I’m exempt from that. I know my bad habits and my friends know that I openly admit them.

While common complaints about drivers include multitasking and eating, some people are able to multi-task and still drive safely, so that doesn’t bother me much. I’m guilty of multitasking. Don’t ever try to take a burrito from a hypoglycemic.

There are other behaviors, though, that are downright scary and narcissistic. As a therapeutic exercise I decided to make a “dirty dozen” list of vehicular vices that raise my blood pressure, and I quickly had written down about 25! I combined some behaviors and whittled my list down to a mere 23. Read on if you dare. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’ll have a little chat with my pastor.

1. Can’t Move Right for Sirens and Lights: Okay, this is common sense and required by law. When emergency vehicles need to get by, you calmly and swiftly move out of their way in the direction of your right hand. For nine of 10 people, that’s the hand they write with. You don’t need to come to a full stop; just go to the right and give other people room to do the same.

The other day I was on 405 and it was obvious from the backup ahead that something was wrong. I heard several fire and aid vehicles coming up behind me, so I put on my signal and tried to move to the right from the passing lane. Chaos ensued. Some people slammed on their brakes and came to a complete stop. Some refused to let others over. More than a dozen cars in front of the fire and aid trucks would not get out of the carpool lane for them until they reached the site of the wreck.

The most dangerous thing I’ve ever seen someone do to an emergency vehicle was when I was on a police ride-along. We were running code (lights and siren) to an emergency call with just one vehicle in front of us in the left lane of a two-lane arterial. The middle-aged driver of that Mercedes slowed down and completely stopped in that lane, forcing the screaming patrol car to slam on the brakes and go around him. It almost caused an accident.

If an emergency vehicle has its lights and sirens on, someone probably needs serious help. The delay caused by drivers who don’t move over could ultimately mean the difference between life and death for someone bleeding to death or in cardiac arrest. I’ve often wished that I could tell drivers who don’t move right, or who panic in the presence of public safety, to remember that if it was their loved one in jeopardy, they’d want help to get there as quickly as possible.

2. The Roller Coaster Maneuver: I see this all the time. People go ten miles an hour or more slower than the speed limit uphill, and then careen precariously downhill at 10 or 20 over. If there were loops and hairpin turns involved, that might be fun. But… it’s not the Puyallup Fair.

3. Driving with Brakes: All the time on the freeway, people drive with their brakes. Seriously, you can control the speed of your car largely with the gas pedal. It can be done. I was thrilled when a coworker told me he was teaching his son to drive from Duvall to Carnation without using the brakes. Everyone should know how to do that. Hitting the brakes randomly and often can be dangerous.

4. No You Can’t Pass Me: You’re behind someone on I-5 who is clearly daydreaming about starring in their own rap video. You need to be somewhere and going 45 in a 55 isn’t helping you. So you signal and change lanes to go around them. They speed up. You speed up. Before you know it, you’re going 70, and they won’t let you over. It’s like the old “Beep Beep” song.

You signal and get back behind them, and they slow down again. Now I do think that subconsciously, when someone goes to pass us, we speed up because we realize we were spacing out. But to block the person trying to pass you by racing them isn’t cool. It’s not personal, man, they just want to go faster. Plus, seeing a Voyager race a Corolla isn’t sexy.

5. Slowing Down the Whole Interstate by Owning the Passing Lane: I think I heard Ken Schram talk about this once, so I know I’m not the only one. The lane commonly referred to as the “fast lane” is technically called the passing lane. This means that you move over when someone behind you wants to go faster. It is not your job to police the whole freeway and keep everyone under the speed limit. If you wish to impede the flow of traffic, at least have the decency to move to the right and do it to people who have an extra half hour to get where they’re going.

6. Merging at Moped Speed: In driver’s ed, we were taught to be traveling at freeway speed when we merged onto the freeway. In the past 15 years or so, I’ve noticed that people routinely get on the freeway at speeds significantly below the flow of traffic. This forces those already on the freeway to slow down to accommodate them, often having to hit their brakes. I’ve wondered if this could be one of the single biggest causes of congestion on our freeways.

7. No, You Merge with Me: It is the responsibility of drivers entering the freeway to merge with drivers already on the freeway, not the other way around. This is also true when two lanes merge into one: if your lane is running out, don’t act like everyone needs to let you in. The people in the other lane were there first. Plus, if you’re polite and signal, cool people will let you over. Unless…

8. Me First: This is the guy in the lane that’s running out who has to gun it and get to the front of the line, cutting everyone else off because his time is more important. Hey, if your wife’s in labor, you’re hypoglycemic, or CSI’s about to start, I understand. Otherwise, remember those things called manners that you learned in Kindergarten? Use them. Please.

7. Just Add Water: Okay. This issue has always had me mystified. We live in western Washington. It rains here. Rain is normal. Rain is wet. The sky is darker when it rains and rain can make the roads slippery. Yet it seems that as soon as it starts to rain, people panic. They start driving with their brakes and driving at abnormally slow speeds. That is more dangerous than remaining calm and driving cautiously.

I’ve heard some folks theorize that this is because so many people have moved here from places where it doesn’t rain as often. That may explain part of this phenomenon, but I’m open to ideas on why this happens when we live in a place where… it rains. Unless you were raised in an isolated commune in the Kalahari Desert, you’ve probably driven in rain.

8. The Diagonal Turn Lane Straddle: Um, what’s this about? People drive to the left to get in a turn lane, straddling the line at an odd angle so that their car’s rear end is still hanging out in a lane of travel. They sit there with their signal on until they can turn, stopping traffic in the lane they just came from. I want to give these people chalk so they can draw lines on their driveways to practice in.

9. The Last Minute Turn Signal Brake Slamming Freakout: This maneuver seems to have become increasingly common over the last five years or so. The law says that you should signal a significant distance before turning so that people know you’re going to slow down and turn. It’s also a good practice if you don’t want to get rear ended.

Quite often I see people driving along, then at the last minute before their turn, they suddenly slam on the brakes and signal, forcing everyone behind them to slam on their brakes. Sometimes this happens; we almost miss our turns. This just seems to be fast becoming the normal way of turning. Driving along… driving along… AAAH!! He’s turning.

10. The Massive Blame Shift Freakout: People who honk, yell, or give you the Bronx salute because of something they did.

11. More People Needing to Practice with Chalk: These are the people who blatantly take up two parking spots. When I see this at church, I cringe. How rude. Seriously. And they wonder why people say going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

12. The Inclement Weather Conga Line: Maintaining a safe following distance is a cardinal rule of driving. But accidents are often caused by people following too closely. During a major snow event in 2006 during which a half an hour drive took six hours, I was horrified at how close people stayed to each other in stop and go traffic.

For three hours, as we inched forward in that nightmare traffic jam, the woman behind me stayed so close to my back bumper that I rarely saw her headlights. I felt like the blood vessel above my right eyebrow was going to pop because I was sure she’d slide into me, and then we’d be obstructing traffic. You should always be able to see the rear tires in front of you and the headlights behind you.

13. Slobs without Boundaries: Don’t throw trash and cigarettes out of your cars. It actually takes more effort to roll down the window and throw garbage onto the roadway than it does to keep it inside of your vehicle. Bags and bags of trash are collected from the side of the road because of lazy people who toss their junk out the windows to the detriment of wildlife and the environment. They also start forest fires.

14. Bumper Bikes: This is a shout out to the motorcyclists who come to a stop with their front tires against the back bumpers of people’s cars. Really? That’s kind of personal, and it’s not your car. Remind me to sidle up behind you in the line at the grocery store and breathe on your neck. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable like that.

15. Anarchist Bicyclists: These are the bicyclists who don’t believe that road rules apply to them. They ignore stop signs and red lights, fail to signal in heavy traffic, and ride between lanes when it suits them. They ride like they’re being chased by an army of rabid hobgoblins. Sometimes these are also the people who won’t ride single file and don’t allow cars to get around them. And don’t get me started on the group in Seattle that deliberately blocks rush hour traffic to protest people’s attitudes towards bicyclists.

16. The Cop Car Sighting Freakout Brake Fit: This pertains to drivers who are traveling at the speed limit but slam on—not tap– the brakes when they see a police officer. The officer is not going to stop you for going 35 in a 35 unless your muffler is trailing five feet behind your car with sparks flying off of it and you have no windshield. There is no need to creep by him at 25 miles per hour. By the way, you’re actually drawing more attention to yourself that way than if you were going 35. What on earth is in your trunk anyway?

17. Aggression Against Innocents: There is a certain type of driver that tailgates, cuts you off, and drives like a lunatic when they can clearly see that you have children and pets in the car. They have no regard for anyone’s safety. These are the people that sometimes make me want to carry a pair of electrified nunchucks in my car. Except I don’t know how to use nunchucks, and it’s best to just get out of their way to protect your precious cargo. Let them go by.

18. Signal Running Turn Turtles: This is another behavior I see frequently. These are the motor vehicle operators who approaching the street you’re on from a side street, and are in such a hurry that they blow through the stop sign or signal they should be obeying. Once they get in front of you though, they drive at terrapin speeds, be-bopping along without a care in the world.

19. One Speed Wonders: You’re in a 55 mph zone. The guy in front of you is doing 45 with no one in front of him. You reach a 30 mph zone. You slow down. He’s still going 45. Is his car only capable of going one speed, or only has one gear?

I see Volvos doing this more than any other kind of car. That may sound like a nasty stereotype, but I’m not kidding. I’ve paid special attention to this. Maybe Volvo really stands for Vehicles Obviously Lacking Versatility – One Speed. Volvos are well-built cars, so this doesn’t make sense.

20. Running Lights Only: We’ve all forgotten to turn on our headlights when it’s dark out. This is about the people who think it’s sufficient to have only their running lights on in low to no light. You may be able to see just fine, dude, but I might not be able to see you, even in spite of the sparkly beads and trinkets swinging into your field of vision from your rear view mirror.

21. Shopping Cart Saboteurs: If you wheeled a shopping cart to your vehicle, you probably have the ability to wheel it to the nearest shopping cart corral. It does not belong in a parking spot. It does not belong up against someone else’s car. Just because one cart is in a parking spot does not mean that parking spot has become an official party pad for all shopping carts.

22. Parking So Close to Someone Else’s Car That Everyone Has to Dislocate Their Joints To Squeeze In the Passenger Side: Sometimes this happens because parking lots aren’t striped right. If you can help it though, assume that your parking lot neighbor is a NFL linebacker who needs ample room to get into his Neon.

23. CUDOS: Completely, Utterly, Dangerously Oblivious and Selfish drivers. Yes, I’ve invented an acronym. There is a segment of the driving population that seems to either not be aware of how their driving can affect other people or they just don’t care. They are either tuned out and oblivious to others’ safety, or they just feel more important than everyone else.

This kind of driving endangers lives. I wish that the police would focus on removing oblivious drivers from the roads far more than any other kind. If you can’t safely operate a motor vehicle, you shouldn’t have a driver’s license.

Okay, there it is, my top 23 (wow, I really needed to vent). I hope that future technological improvements to automobiles will include things like forklift attachments, laser beams, and other means of safely moving dangerous drivers to the shoulder without injury. For now, I’m going to try to curb my name-calling, even if it is done in the safety of my own locked vehicle.

It’s hard, though, especially when you get road raged by a guy dressed like Santa Claus in a decorated F250 because you won’t go around the person taking a left when you’re sitting near the “no driving on the shoulder” sign. Wow, man, happy holidays to you too. Hope you made it ho-ho-home in time for CSI.


The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers. -Dave Barry

©2011 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

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