Tuesday, May 5, 2015

#DrivingBham: Sunvarmint Says Don't Be Nice! Be Smart!

Courtesy is an absolute must when driving. Please don't get me wrong. Something I learned long ago, which I believe helped me deal with stress when I'm driving, is that traffic is a social situation, not a mechanical operation. 

I wish it was more mechanical. I wish people were able to just follow traffic laws and proper driving techniques, read road signs, use turn signals, know the difference between a flashing yellow light and a flashing red light. 

God knows, even if people drove the way they were supposed to, poor street planning, or outdated roadways, signage and other institutional shortcomings would cause enough traffic misery.

I emphatically encourage anyone who gets behind the wheel of a car to obsess on proper driving skills and know-how.

Be the one in the car who knows the difference between yielding and merging, and who properly practices each maneuver.

The modern world is allowing people to dumb down in so many ways. The new text and Internet use of languages are sloppy and not precise. Instead of evolving in the many ways open communication could allow, we are, in many unfortunate ways, devolving due to the many different conveniences available today.

When it comes to driving, this new sloppy way of living can be deadly.

Of course there are the obvious driving no-nos, like texting, making phone calls, reaching under your seat to grab your rolling papers to prove your behind the wheel spleefing dexterity and skill. We all know those things are idiotic, except when we do them.

I think, instead of focusing on the obvious, often abused offenses such as texting or distracted driving, we should focus on the overall problem of "driving while dumb-ass."

Now, driving while dumb-ass is a flaw that many people think they don't have. It's always the person in the other car. If you are going too fast, you think everyone else is going too slow. If you are going too slow, then those speed demon, young whippersnappers jamming up behind you are the problem. 
You crave that moment when you pull up next to them at the stoplight to prove they wasted their speeding and you'll get there just as fast. 

Then, whichever side of the slow vs fast argument you're on, if you're the kind of person who personally engages other drivers in combative behavior (on a regular basis) then you are guilty of DWDA. I don't mean to say you're DWDA if you shoot a bird at one driver every blue moon. We've all dealt with the situation where we just have to tell someone off because, let's face it, they shouldn't be behind the wheel but no one else is correcting that problem. So you decide flipping them off is necessary, or yelling, or whatever else your choice of noticeable compaint might be. Congratulations. You solved the problem and they will go home crying and never drive again. 

The only opinion I have about that sort of reaction is that it is sometimes forgivable. I, myself, have engaged in a little bird flipping, yelling and other expressions. But I have realized that often, people to whom that is directed actually kind of like it. And so I feel like they have drawn me into their little world. Whether or not I can draw them out of there is questionable. But if I feed them, they will stay. So I try my damnedest to avoid the hate sex with other drivers. 

All of this being said, my main point is that driving is a social situation. People drive with their emotions just as much as they drive with their intellect. If you have your emotions in check...great. Otherwise they will come out of your brain, slide down your arms and legs and into your car. 

One gesture in particular is actually more worrisome than others. In today's driving world we all know to expect a bit of jerkishness. People will cut you off, tailgate, not let you into traffic, pass on the solid line etc. I know this sucks. And those of you who do this, well, you're sucking. But as much as you irritate me, there is one action that gets to me just as much. Politeness.

Now, as I said at the beginning, courtesy is an absolute must in driving situations. But, and this is an extremely large and important but...But it can also be deadly as hell. 

If you know the rules for driving, the basic ones, y'know, that helps a lot: Right turn on red almost everywhere, The person on the right goes first if you arrive at a four way stop at the same time (it's called right of way), Flashing yellow light means caution, Flashing red light means stop, The left hand lane is for passing (move over after you pass or you are DWDA), Tailgating is dangerous and illegal even if you're correct that they need to move over...

But I've heard of and seen first hand another major problem... kindness. If we all stick to the rules it's easy for everyone to drive safely. But when you decide you're going to express your love of humanity, a random act of kindness, and say, let a person out into busy traffic flow, or relinquish your turn to move at a stop sign, you might also be causing harm or even killing them. 

One time, which is only one of many, but the worst, I witnessed an act of kindness cause a serious problem. On 280, when the traffic was simply awful, a very sweet person attempted to allow a car to pass over the lane and through traffic, from the adjoining intersection and into the traffic flow on the other side, going the other direction. They were frustrated. They didn't understand why others weren't joining them in their random act of kindness. And "BOOM!" When the car finally made it through the artificial gap created by this sweet driver's good will, they were creamed, hard.

I've seen other minor incidents of similar misguided attempts at goodness. Often, other drivers who attempt to allow me to move forward instead of them at stop signs, or into traffic are perplexed and frustrated if I don't follow their lead. But if I have no idea what is coming up beside them, or see no reason why they should allow me to move first, I am dubious and untrusting. It isn't that I am untrusting of their intent. I know they're really nice. I know they're expressing that age old social activity of friendship, happily spreading the joy of their niceness. No, I trust that part. I want them to be the one's that watch my house for me while I'm out of town, or get my mail, etc. But I don't necessarily want them to be across from me a a stop sign. 

Now, to make myself entirely clear. There are MANY situations where courtesy is important while driving. There are MANY situations where kindness is necessary, helping a stranded person, watching out for others who might have drifted momentarily, either out of their lane, or out of their mind. We aren't perfect mechanical creatures. We need to allow a bit of flexibility to account for all the apes controlling thousands of pounds of steel flinging themselves madly across the planet. But, as with many other things in life...I know to watch out for the ass hats. It's the kind ones that can kill you. 

So, closing, finis, in conclusion, adieu and a happy healthy so long Sally, I will ask you, please...be very careful with your "nice."      

PS. I'm not talking about driving in New Zealand or Malaysia or some exotic place. What I'm talking about is here. I mean the driving rules are pretty damn consistent throughout the good ole' U, S of A.           


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