Driving in America

Well, school has begun for the year, and the annual increase in insanity on the road has returned.   Anyone else notice?  I’m not sure if it really gets worse every year, or if I’m just getting older.  Most likely I’m getting older, but that doesn’t mean drivers aren’t also getting worse at the task of driving.  Maybe it’s because they don’t understand that it is not only a task, but it is one that is best done on its own and not as merely another part of multi-tasking.  Honestly…

Thank God I no longer have to insert myself into the insanity of commuting on the US 101 freeway, anymore.  I still drive to work every morning, just not on 101.  But I’m sure I’m not the only person out there that has seen all sorts of multi-tasking while behind the wheel.  I’ve seen normally sensible people eating breakfast, and not just a one-handed affair with a McDonald’s or similar outlet’s ham and egg sandwich.  I mean eating cereal from bowl held in one hand with a spoon in the other while steering with elbows.  And, of course, brushing teeth afterwards is certainly necessary–while still behind the wheel in bumper to bumper traffic traveling at anywhere from stop-and-go to sixty-plus MPH.  Fairly common sights are ladies driving with their elbows while applying various items of make-up while their main focus in on their image in the mirror, either rear-view or fold-down on the visor.  Or, how about the guy I saw in my rear-view mirror with the lower portion of his face hidden behind a newspaper held across his steering wheel, and only occasionally glancing up at the real world beyond his windshield?  Come to think of it, I saw him more than once.  I couldn’t swear it was the same guy, though, since I could only see his eyes once in awhile.

Yes, I am free from the insanity on the US 101 freeway, but not all insanity.  Just driving from one side of town to the other, I still use a local freeway, just not one as fun as US 101.  But, then, city street traffic has its own version of insanity.  I’m not talking about a big city, either.  Santa Rosa is only about 160,000, and spread out over a few square miles.  It’s normally not too bad, though…unless you look at the details.

How high should one have to count before pulling into an intersection after getting a green light?  Five would be risky, and ten should be fairly safe, but do you really want to bet your life on it?  Sure as hell, when you do, someone is going to come bombing through because he is running late getting to work, or getting home from work, or getting to wherever it is that is so important for him to get to, and he and two or three tons of steel are going to join you in your front seat.  But, if you don’t jump out there as soon at the light goes green, the guy behind you is going to start laying on his horn.  And, try this sometime when you are sitting at a red light watching the cross traffic go by:  count the number of cars driven by cell phone users.  It might be easier to count the ones that aren’t driven by someone whose attention, or at least half of it, is not pulled away to some far away place.  And then, there are the really scary ones with their attention focused on their laps as they barrel through or make a left turn into the lane beside you.  We can only hope their laps are occupied by a cell phone on which they are texting, and not some lesser, baser activity.

At those hours in the morning and afternoon when parents are transporting our future to and from school, the numbers of cars seems to double, at least.  And I could never understand that.  Does that mean during the summer when the kids aren’t in school, both parents aren’t holding down jobs?  I remember when it used to be like that, but those years have long ago faded into the murky past.  And I wonder how many of the cars en-route to or from schools are among those idiots that apparently have no idea what a big red stop sign means when it swings out from the side of a school bus stopped at the curb with red lights flashing front and rear.  I have counted five, six and more cars just whiz on past those temporary, mandatory no-travel zones, and probably swearing at the bus drivers for blocking their roadway.  I’m not sure what would be the best answer for that.  Having a fleet of police cars escorting each bus would do it, but that would be expensive.  How about gattling-gun mounts similar to what Apache helicopters have, with each bus also carrying a gunner dedicated to its operation.  Naw, someone would sue.

Although driving isn’t necessarily a venue for entertainment, it can be if you can avoid being caught up in the insanity and merely observe it around you.  A great place for this is just about any place where a multi-lane roadway necks down to fewer lanes.  It’s like watching the scramble for position when the green flag flies at Indianapolis.  You’d think they really bought into those new car commercials where the manufacturers demonstrates how their cars really can do the stuff you only see in Mission Impossible movies.  Everyone is going to do their best to get to the narrows first, even if they know it means slowing to a crawl in the line of cars on the now reduced width road.  It’s like they take it as a personal assault on their dignity if someone manages to get there ahead of them.  I wonder, do schools still teach children how to stand in line and wait for their turn before moving ahead?  Are they still taught to yield to each other when they both arrive at the door then proceed with mutual respect.  Do they learn to back off when approaching their goal if another child is closer, falling in behind to be next in peaceful, polite manner instead of rushing forward to beat the one that would, otherwise, get there first?  If they are taught these things, at what point are they allowed to no longer practice what they have learned?  When does it become okay to rush forward, making it a race to the door or slide or swing or whatever?  When do they realize no one is going to stop them from cutting in line unless whoever they are cutting in front of is bigger, meaner, and more likely to violently teach them better manners?  Why has it become another function of the police to intercede in school discipline?  But, that is a matter that deserves a blog all its own.

What is this aversion in recent years to closing up the space between your car and the one in front when you all come to a stop at a red light?  If ten cars are stopped in the same lane, at least five will leave at least a full car length between it and the one in front.  Is this what the driving schools are teaching, now? Do they say you should be able to see the back tires of the car in front of you to be sure you won’t be shoved into him if someone slams into your rear?  And, if that’s the case, are they also teaching it really isn’t necessary to see ten or fifteen feet of pavement behind those tires, or do they just leave it to the judgment and the paranoia of the drivers.  Maybe it was when the price of average cars climbed to fifteen, twenty, thirty, fifty thousand dollars that everyone became obsessed with avoiding damaging their investments by using the same thinking that takes up two adjoining spaces in parking lots for the shinny, new baubles.  One problem that goes unattended when this occurs is that a number of cars are forced to stop at the last intersection back even though that light is green.  And if someone creeps ahead into that intersection, where, after all, the light is green, he is likely to still be sitting there when his light turns red and the cross traffic then has to wait until he can move out of the way.  I know it’s not because of all the huge SUVs and pickups on the road now that are mixed in with the smaller, modern cars.  Back before this driving technique began, most of the cars on the road were humongous machines out of Detroit that were as long as the monsters on today’s roads.

Anyway, that’s what I think.  How about you?

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