The hating of other drivers on the road is not just an emotion we endure whenever we get behind the wheel. It is a fashion and a fetish we take everywhere we go: to our homes, to our friends, to our water coolers, mostly for the chance to act smug and clannish. People are best at identifying their own greatness when they do it in opposition to others. It feels good to get mad at another person on the road because it reinforces the idea that you’re better than they are – you are smart because they did something stupid; you are caring because they did something apathetic, and so forth. In short, good driving is conversationally fashionable, which to me is about the same as saying that lifejackets are fashionable. They are more than fashionable – they are useful.
The reality is that we are all bad drivers. How do I know? Because the most accepted definition of a bad driver is so simple: “He/she did something bad.” When you see someone fail to flash their turn signal, they did something bad; thus, they are a bad driver. And we have all done something bad, some of us more than others. So, we are all bad drivers.
Yes, that is a ridiculous statement, and I’m aware of it, but that’s usually as far as the assessment of bad driving goes in our culture of hard criticism/soft analysis. We assess the skills of another driver by specific encounters with them. If they do something smart in that moment they are off the hook; if they do something dumb, they will forever exist in our cranium of stories, just waiting to be brought out when we see a chance to complain about something. Truly, what would this city have to talk about without bad drivers?
But may I be so bold as to suggest that if we look at the problem far more objectively, we might be able to clean up the streets, so to speak. Sure, we’d have to abandon a few conversation starters, but we’d also cut down on the amount of accidents and wasted time. The first step is to think about what truly, actually, reasonably, constitutes a bad driver. Is it someone who does something stupid once, or does it have much more to do with attitude? Is it anyone who makes a mistake, or is it the people who don’t even care about rectifying their mistakes?
The way I see it, there are two types of bad drivers: those who don’t understand the other people on the road, and those who don’t care about the other people on the road. Interestingly enough, it is when these two types of drivers converge that you get the most traffic incidents. The two of them have an almost paradoxical relationship; some drivers “don’t understand” that there are other drivers who just “don’t care.” I have friends that fit into both categories.
My first friend—let’s call him Jim—doesn’t understand that other drivers aren’t always going to do what they are supposed to do. My other friend—let’s call him Marv—is supposed to put his turn signal on more than half a second before he turns, but a smart driver knows that many people don’t care enough to do so. Thus, they will keep a safe distance between themselves and any car in front of them. Jim, on the other hand, will tailgate Marv’s car because he assumes that since the rule is to put your turn signal on long before you turn, naturally that is what Marv will do. Jim doesn’t understand and Marv doesn’t care. One car is tailgating, the other slows for a turn without signaling, and BOOM: fender bender.
It is, therefore, a logical conclusion that if we can rid ourselves of the “don’t care” drivers, it would simultaneously extinguish the “don’t understand” drivers, because they would have nothing to not understand in the first place.
Meanwhile, the good drivers also fall victim to the “don’t care” drivers. Why? Let me put it this way: a “don’t care” driver might idle in the middle of an intersection to make a left turn . . . beside a “no left turn” sign . . . with no turn signal on . . . while talking on their cell phone. You can be the Einstein of driving and still not be able to avoid such an embarrassment of basic humanity.
All of this may come across as a rant that is short on solutions. After all, what is there to be done about apathy? If we were able to cure people of such things, we’d be solving far more of the world’s ills than simple traffic indignities. I do, however, feel that if more people understood that caring about other drivers is mutually beneficial, they might be more inclined to try it.
The old adage “treat people the way you want to be treated” goes deeper than simply acknowledging the virtues of human decency; it also explains the reciprocity that is necessary for relationships to function well. Driving is no exception. Believe it or not, every time you get into a car you are entering into a relationship with thousands of other people who are doing the exact same thing. It is a communal relationship. The turn signal, for example, is a symbol for it. Every time you put yours on, you are not only engaging a flashing light, but also turning on your “I care” sign. Please, everyone, turn yours on.