Why do so many people transform into stupid, selfish, dangerous meanies when they step into their cars? In the past two days, I’ve listened to people lay heavily on the horn because: 1) I was waiting at a stop sign so a car that was almost upon our intersection and had no stop sign could pass, 2) I was waiting before making a left turn on a green light because two pedestrians were walking directly in my path in the crosswalk and a motorcycle was coming our way, and 3) I was waiting to turn right because a man was in the crosswalk.
I think the pedestrians were more freaked out by me than by the people who were honking at me to go ahead and kill them. It was only me they could hear through my rolled-down window, screaming, “I’m waiting for a pedestrian, mother fucker!” or “What do you want me to do, asshole?! Kill the guy on the motorcycle?” My father hates swearing. He says people who use foul language are merely demonstrating that they have small vocabularies. God help him if he’s ever a passenger in my car, because when impatient bastards try to pressure me into doing dangerous shit on the road, my vocabulary shrinks to pretty damned small.
I’m not a hesitant or indecisive driver. I learned to drive in Los Angeles, where hesitant drivers quickly become road kill. I’m a defensive driver, always scanning quickly, moving decisively to keep traffic flowing, but remaining firm in my decision to stay put when there’s a good chance that moving will get me killed. So, when I say I was waiting at a stop sign for a car to pass, I assure you I didn’t wait too long and miss my chance. It was immediately clear that moving into the intersection would have meant death or a smashed front end. Yet, even as the car zoomed right in front of us, the woman behind me was gesticulating wildly at my incomprehensible stupidity, as if she couldn’t even see the other car.
The moments that freak me out most, though, are when people get impatient waiting to turn left at a blind intersection. They haven’t seen a car for a while, they can’t see past the car waiting to turn left going the other way, and they’re tired of waiting or nervous about the car honking behind them. So they guess. “There’s probably no car coming. I’m going for it!” They inch out, nobody clips them, but they still can’t see. So they gun it. When I was a TV reporter in Alaska, I often reported on fatal car accidents, and more than once they involved people who had made just this move. Were they late to an appointment? They definitely missed it. Were they just unnerved by someone honking behind them? Those honkers were still alive. Maybe they now felt bad about honking, but who cares? Not the driver who gunned it, because she’s dead. No wait, I believe it was her passenger who died.
A friend of mine once heard news of an impatient driver who got sick of waiting for the car in front of him because that idiot driver was parked at a stop sign, no traffic in sight. The impatient driver darted around to pass, hitting two small children who he hadn’t been able to see walking in front of the other driver’s car. Who’s the idiot now?
I told my husband last night that I’m pretty sure I’d rather be killed by an impatient driver than kill someone else via my own impatient driving. How could I live with myself?
Even when a driver in front of us is, indeed, behaving like an idiot—going well under the speed limit, say—does that mean we have the right to endanger his life by crawling up his ass at high speed? Not one driver has a mistake-free driving history. So why do some drivers seem so sure that the rest of us deserve death or injury for our mistakes?
Modern life is busy and stressful, and we all have places we need or want to be. Sometimes it’s even urgent. But it’s not worth killing or dying for. Yet, after all the honking, gesticulating, and screaming I’ve seen the past couple of days, I wonder if some people actually believe it is worth risking their lives to get there five minutes sooner.
I sometimes see people speed through my neighborhood. Maybe they’ll get where they’re going sooner, or they might kill a kid who is too young to stop and think before chasing a ball into the street. If drivers are running late, they might not get the job, might miss the movie or party, or might get an earful from a spouse. That could ruin a night, but if they kill a kid it will ruin the rest of their lives.
Daily we each get on the road and put our lives in the hands of hundreds of total strangers over whom we have no control. No wonder people are tempted to road rage. But actually, it’s a good reason to exert more than usual patience, not less.
I was recently walking across an intersection in my neighborhood when a car a block away made a left turn to enter the street I was on. I was already in the intersection, so I should have had plenty of time before they reached me. Then, when they were half a block away, the driver gunned it. I looked at the speeding driver in surprise, and saw that he and his two passengers were looking right at me. I had to run for it, and they just missed me. They seemed to be making a joke out of trying to run me down. I don’t think the driver planned to kill me, but just wanted to see me run.
What if I had tripped? I have a sad feeling those Clockwork Orange kids would have kept on going.