You Drive Me Crazy
Ten of the most annoying driving habits.
It's been said that the only two ways of really insulting someone is to call the person a lousy lover or a poor driver. I don't know about the first, but motoring among the unwashed for just a few minutes uncovers a catalog of offenses, ranging from simple discourtesies to outright felonies.
Most bad driving habits can be traced back to selfish behavior. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involve some form of driver inattention in the three seconds prior to collision. Reaching for a moving object increases the accident risk by a staggering 9 times; reading, applying makeup or dialing a cell phone by 3 times. Clearly pandering to such odds is rude to anyone owning sheet metal within striking distance, not to mention the irritation a near miss from such boneheaded action engenders.
And while we often see who sits behind the wheel, the blame goes deeper than just the offending party. For as complex as driving a car can be, we receive precious little training in the science (almost always from overworked teachers), and there's no follow-up instruction unless we get a ticket and attend traffic school. With that in mind, poking fun at the collective driving skill of American motorists might prove instructive; thus, MSN Autos has called upon me, the staff curmudgeon, to growl publically. So put it in park while I cover my short list of peeves from the pavement.
1. Learn to Merge
Sauntering to the end of a really long freeway onramp at 52 mph, confirming that all those cars and trucks swerving in avoidance are going 75 mph as you pull into a traffic lane, then accelerating to 80 mph two minutes later torques everyone off for three miles behind you.
Traffic already on the freeway has the right of way and it's your duty to merge seamlessly with it. If you're not going freeway speed by the bottom of the onramp then step on the gas. Most importantly of all, train yourself to look over your left shoulder while accelerating on the ramp so you can pick your target merge point. And don't blame me if I don't move over for you; I'm busy and fitting in is your job. I have the right of way, doofus!
2. The Gaping Fool
If you have a hankering to see a wrecked car, then take a beer and a lawn chair to a junkyard and pass a lazy afternoon contemplating the near-infinite combinations of wrinkled sheet metal. Revel in the mathematic complexities of shattered glass; compute the force vectors written irrevocably in all that carnage. But brother, don't balk me with your rube's need to stare during the morning commute.
Look, if you're going to pull over and assist, great. If you're picking your way through broken glass, we understand. But jamming traffic for five miles because of some dark need to gawk at a fender-bender is a hanging offense. Instead of rubbernecking at the wreck site, look for the escape route around and away from it. If you have passengers, they can stare for you and give a detailed report.
3. Get High on the Beams
Thanks to the near-total urbanization of most American's driving experience, we've come to a collective inability to use high beams properly. As a result, any rural native can spot the dark-night newbies; they're the ones groveling along blessedly uncongested county highways with their low beams on. Sniffing their way home from bingo night at 32 mph in a 55 zone, these incompetents are another unnecessary hazard to navigation.
It's actually more efficient to power up to speed relatively quickly and then back off the throttle to cruise at a steady speed, rather than slowly moving away from a stoplight. So don't be afraid to use the accelerator.
If you can't be bothered to either remember that every vehicle has been equipped with high beam headlights since before Humphrey Bogart was getting whistling lessons from Lauren Bacall in the 1944 film To Have and Have Not, or are too lazy to use those high beams, then you simply aren't participating in society. This is the sort of lazy ignorance that begets risky passes and menacing tailgating.
Most telling, slovenly low-beam-only operation proves that the occupant behind the wheel isn't looking even 80 feet ahead, the cardinal sin of all. It doesn't take more than a flip of the fingers to swap the headlights up or down. The instant traffic passes those high beams should be on, illuminating well down the road and giving the eyes an easier time adapting to the lack of glare. An instant before oncoming traffic rounds the bend or crests the hill, another finger flick puts the low beams back on. It's really easy folks.
4. Jackrabbit Smarts
I'm frustrated to no end by people who have internalized all that hogwash to avoid jackrabbit starts. They crawl away from signals and stop signs as if each foot traveled has a ten dollar toll attached to it, ignorant of the fact that creeping to speed wastes not only fuel, but also bottles up traffic behind them.
Learn this truth: Engines are most efficient when operating at or nearly at full throttle. Otherwise, a moderate, steady pace is best. So it's more efficient to power up to speed relatively quickly, then back off the throttle and cruise at a steady speed.
5. Mystery Brakers
Just asking, but what's up with these inexplicable brake applications in the middle of straightaways? Did you just remember the cat is still in the dryer? See your high school flame pass in the opposite direction? Wake up and realize you were driving? The mystery is baffling. All I know is that it seems people aren't paying attention and then get startled back into focus, so they apply the brakes. Focus on driving when you're behind the wheel, not the other things that are happening in your life. You might live longer and worry less.
6. Lights On, No One Home
Every morning I wake up hoping tonight I'll be blinded for 10 minutes by the headlights of a parked car. Really, is it such an intellectual connection to understand that parking lights are for, uh, parking? That headlights blaring uselessly and dangerously into oncoming traffic are needless hazards? Turn them off when you are parked.
7. Rolling Your Own
You don't know him, but curmudgeon extraordinaire Steve Statham, the editor of Musclecar Enthusiast magazine, once growled about "making up your own driving rules as you go along." This after another excruciating round of, "Oh no, you go first, oh no, you go first" at the local four-way stop with an indecisive motorist.
Really, which is more courteous, recalling and applying such driving law basics as the car on the right has the right of way, or displaying a pigheaded devotion to ensuring everyone else goes first? There's already a whole body of law dedicated to the orderly flow of traffic and we'll all get there sooner if we didn't hold these crossroad coffee klatches.
8. Pull In Front of Me, Will You?
Why is it so many tin pots play that infantile, "I don't see you" bit when two lanes of traffic merge in crawling rush hour traffic? They keep their nose glued to the guy in front, avoid all eye contact and like three year olds wish you'd simply go away.
Oh, please. Is your life so devoid of success that you need to impose your will on another driver stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic? A lane has ended, the people next door are going to merge into your lane, hopefully every other car at a time. Deal with it.
9. Herd Instinct
Here's an idea: Let's all get in our cars, jump onto the freeway and bunch together in packs in the left lanes. It'll be fun and we'll barely have to maintain consciousness because we can just follow the guy in front of us.
If this sounds stupid, it is. But that seems to be the norm on interstates all across this country. Cars pile up like logs at the mill because the guy in front is texting his dog groomer and the strokes behind him put their brains out to pasture 10 miles ago.
If your path is blocked, do something about it. Given today's clogged freeways often you can't, and then we're told patience is a virtue (code phrase for hopeless). But just as often, looking ahead and plotting a careful lane change will smoothly avoid such mindless wandering.
10. All the Rest
I've left out a veritable hall of fame of daily irritants and driving clichés. Juvenile thumping stereos, unused turn signals, shaving, reading, make-up application, eating while underway, cell phone idylls, weaving, drunks, 64 mph in residential areas, not pulling over for faster traffic — the list is endless. You know, you don't have to smile, and I sure don't want to exchange addresses with you, but if we'd all just keep our minds on what we're doing — that's driving — it would help.
Longtime Road & Track contributor Tom Wilson's credits include local racing championships, three technical engine books and hundreds of freelance articles.
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