(I actually wrote this two years ago after a trip to New York. Since I just returned from a trip to Vermont and nothing has changed, I’ll share it with you today.)
We’re a nation of lousy drivers. At a time when most Americans are afraid to lick a stamp or set foot in an airport, we think nothing of getting behind the wheel of a 3,000lb. vehicle and driving 80mph down a major highway while eating a burger and talking on a cell phone. I say this with the conviction of someone who has driven for thirty-five years and recently survived a 4,000-mile road trip.
The deaths of a few thousand people at the hands of terrorists mobilized our nation to war. Yet the annual deaths of 35,000 victims of traffic accidents don’t even faze us. We don’t protest. We don’t call our congressman. We don’t even change our actions. We see a 50-car pileup on the evening news, and get into our car the next morning without giving it a second thought. And we justify our actions with timeworn clichés, “I’ve been driving ten years without a mishap. Those people were just lousy drivers”. Well, those lousy drivers are in the lane next to you, and if you don’t drive defensively, you will be in the next 50-car pileup. The National Safety Council says motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 1 to 33.
I drive 120 miles a day. I’ve driven in eighteen states and been a passenger in twelve more. I’ve seen every kind of driver you can imagine. For the most part I just drive defensively and pray a lot. However, there are three types of drivers who push me to the limits of sanity. If you see yourself in one of these categories I beg you to get help before you hurt someone.
The first lousy driver is the one who is enraged by anyone daring to actually drive the speed limit. These are the drivers who intimidate by tailgating, revving their engines, and even honking. Then they pass wildly around you while making obscene gestures. Last year I was passed in the mountains, on a curve, by a car going at least 90mph. And of course there wasn’t a highway patrolman in sight for the next hundred miles. Speeding drivers think nothing of racing through construction areas, small towns, school zones, or bad weather. Some drivers add an extra thrill by passing on the right shoulder.
The second lousy driver is the driver who is preoccupied by everything BUT his driving. He is talking on the phone, eating, listening to music, reading, taking notes, or all of the above at the same time. I recently drove across a major bridge and realized with horror that the man driving the oncoming car had a book in one hand and the steering wheel in the other. I’ve also witnessed people putting on makeup, shaving, and even brushing their teeth. (Don’t ask me where they spit; I don’t think we want to know.) These are usually the drivers who also expect you to have ESP. They seldom use turn signals because their hands are otherwise occupied. They make last minute turns when they suddenly realize, mid-phone call, that they are about to bypass their destination.
The last driver is the one who is most dangerous. He is the one who is drunk, drugged, or in a rage. He is blinded to what he is doing and where he is going. He doesn’t know or care that someone else is on the road. According to the National Safety Council about 3 in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related traffic accident at some time in their lives. Many people I’ve met seem to feel safe from drunk drivers because they believe drunks drive late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. That’s a misconception that can get you killed! I once encountered a vehicle going 30mph down the highway at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I thought at first that the driver was having car trouble. Then he began to weave across the road. I followed behind him for a few miles, long enough to see the whiskey bottle he was guzzling from every few minutes. I escaped at the nearest exit.
And a drugged driver doesn’t have to be some junky. Allergy and cold medications can put someone at risk just as easily as any other drug. Most people don’t even read the warnings listed on medications much less heed them. If your medication has a warning about operating “heavy machinery” remember that includes automobiles.
Rage can impair people just as severely as alcohol or drugs. Several years ago a car driven by a hysterical woman rear-ended me. Her husband was driving behind her, chasing her down because she was trying to leave him. She was crying and he was screaming and I don’t think either gave a moment’s thought to the fact that they were driving down a public highway.
These are just my three least favorite drivers. I was tempted to write about the drivers who stay in the left lane…no matter what. Or the drivers who hang their feet out the window (no I haven’t figured out how, but I swear I’ve seen them). Or the drivers who turn around to yell and swat at their kids in the back seat. Or the drivers who drive with babies or dogs on their laps. Or the drivers who are so young they can barely reach the pedals. But I’ll save those for another day. Just be warned. We’re a nation of lousy drivers. The thought of air travel may seem terrifying, but it’s the drive to the airport that will kill you.