Column: How to easily spot an awful driver

10/20/2011 9:00 AM |

There comes a time in every newspaper columnist’s life where he or she feels it necessary to jot down a list of complaints about other drivers on the road. For me, that time has arrived.

My biggest pet peeve on the road isn’t aggressiveness. Aggressive drivers are jerks, I know, but these guys at least know they’re jerks, usually because anyone who’s ever sat shotgun next to them has told them so. And, of course, their behavior on the road usually reflects their behavior at work and pretty much everywhere else. Some of my best friends are jerks. And, to tell the truth, some aggressive drivers do know how to handle a motor vehicle.

No, I get most annoyed with those who drive — and often display jerk-like behavior — with absolutely no sense of awareness of the cars around them, or of their own jerkiness. Sure, they’ll stop at red lights and stop signs and use their lights and blinkers, but that’s where their driving prowess seems to end. These people are easily recognized, as my list below will show.

Some of you reading this may be thinking to yourselves already, “Am I that unaware driver?” If you’re thinking that, then the answer is no. These people have no ability to reflect on what may be going on internally or in their surroundings.

Here are five behaviors typical of the roads’ worst drivers.

1. The dart-out/slow down. This always makes me laugh, at least when I’m in a good mood and not in a rush to get anywhere. I know this person isn’t a timid driver because he just went from 0 to 30 mph in a second so he could jump out in front of me on the road. Yet now he’s driving below the speed limit. And of course there was no one behind me to begin with! A truly aggressive driver would be hard pressed to anger other motorists so efficiently. This move is so utterly senseless you may have found yourself — in a reach to explain these actions — becoming paranoid that undercover agents are trying to prevent you from getting somewhere too fast for some reason, perhaps out of fear that you’ll foil some sort of nefarious government plot.

2. The ne’er-move-over. I don’t understand how anyone driving longer than one year can still commit this roadway atrocity, yet it seems to happen every day. This is the space cadet who is lumbering along in the right lane of a completely empty two-lane highway yet never seems to realize she’s blocking you from merging onto that roadway. Sure, it’s only about an extra 30 seconds you have to wait, but it feels like 30 minutes, and there’s no good reason for it. These wasted seconds add up over a lifetime.

3. The overconfident SUV. Ever notice that during snowstorms, most of the cars that end up in the ditch happen to be SUVs? (Not as many pickups skid off the road, because pickup drivers happen to be some of the best out there.) Common sense should dictate that whether you have two-wheel or four-wheel drive, your tires are still going to slip on ice. So keep it slow, my Ford Edge-driving friends, and stop tailgating the Civics of the world during blizzards. No one is going to speed up or move over — and risk an accident — for your “truck” to get by.

4. The get-around first. This is a subtle one, and I’ll admit even the best drivers may find themselves doing it without realizing. We’ve all been the first car stuck behind a really slow driver. Of course, the two or three cars behind you now want to get around the mess, but most don’t have the courtesy to allow you to go around first. So as they all pass, you’re still stuck behind that turtle. This is fine; I don’t expect that much from my fellow drivers. But if you’re now trying to pass me and the slow driver, and you’re not doing it quick enough, don’t complain when I lose my patience and pop out and into the left lane in front of you. Don’t flail your hands; at this point you should know why you just got cut off.

5. The unaware tailgater. You’ve likely seen an image of this person’s car taking up your entire rearview mirror on your way home from work. “Wow,” you think, as the other car edges even closer, “either this person is an extremely skillful and fast driver and will just implode if I don’t move out of the way, or his wife is in labor.” So you wait for your chance to move to the right or left lane, only to find this driver never had any intention of passing you, because now he’s maintaining his speed and pretty much driving immediately behind you, but in the other lane. You actually end up having to slow your car down so you’re not driving side by side and impeding traffic. This is the biggest idiot on the road.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or at (631) 298-3200, ext. 152.

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