I love driving. I really do. And most of the time I try to be a very chill driver. I listen to music and drive just slightly above the speed limit (or, you know, maybe a bit more than that, depending). I use my signals to indicate what I plan to do. I come to a full stop at stop signs, and I try to give others space—no tailgating or cutting people off. Ideally, I want people to see me but not have to think about me or worry about what I’m going to do next. Driving is a team sport; if we all behave predictably and politely, we’re all going to get where we’re going with as little stress or mess as possible.
But at the same time, I have a really low frustration tolerance when it comes to other people being selfish jerks. And there’s an awful lot of selfish jerkiness on the road. Those super important and busy people weaving in and out of traffic with no turning signals, racing to get ahead by just a couple of car-lengths. The ones who race up the empty right-hand lane and then bull their way into traffic. The ones who ignore construction signs and speed past workers. The ones who don’t pay attention to traffic flow and are always riding the gas and brake at the same time, speeding up too much and then braking, speeding up and braking. The ones who have no patience for cyclists or pedestrians, and who therefore take huge risks in driving too close to them, because they can’t bear to slow down for ten seconds and keep everyone safe.
And then the slow ones. The ones who brake for green lights and slow down for clear intersections, or for smooth, dry curves. The ones who even under the best driving conditions can’t bring themselves to drive the speed limit. The ones who drift slowly in and out of their lane. The ones looking for a particular street or house who don’t just pull over when they see the long line of traffic backed up behind them.
And then the pure ignorant narcissistic assholes. The ones talking on their cell phones. The ones who are high (yes, pothead, marijuana affects your driving). The ones who’ve been drinking. The ones on coke (yeah, you, who thinks you’re invulnerable and no one else is really real). The ones who can’t pull over for a minute but have to retrieve that dropped item, or hand their kid that thing, or find the thing in their purse, or find the right radio station, or use the rearview to fix their hair, all while still driving the car. The ones who claim they’re good drivers because they’ve never been in an accident and yet leave a trail of rage and smoking brakes and near-strokes and terrified cyclists behind them every time they’re on the road.
So most of the time I try to be chill, yes. But if you’re the guy tailgating me in the morning on the way to work, you can bet I’m going to take great pleasure in slowing right down to exactly the speed limit and preventing you from passing me all the long, curvy way down Wellington Crescent. And if you’re that entitled jerk racing and weaving through rush-hour traffic to get ahead of everyone, you can bet I’m going to nose right up to the car in front of me and not let you into my lane. And if you’re the guy in the big soil-hauling truck who suddenly dropped into my lane on a curve the other day and nearly hit me, I just want to inform you that what I was screaming as I slammed on both the brakes and the horn was “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUUUUUUUUUUCK?????” which is a step up from my usual “Wow, you suck!” or “For real?”
But if you are obviously anticipating the traffic around you and making an effort to drive well and safely, I am going to see your turning signal and give you space to get into the lane in front of me. And when you lift your hand to acknowledge me, I’m going to nod back at you and feel pleased that we treated each other as teammates and actual real people.
I was in Montreal a few years ago and an acquaintance picked me up from the train station. That was a scary ride. It seemed like most drivers kept their car straddling lanes (reserving a spot to move over?) and seemed to rely a lot on the quick reflexes of others to prevent accidents. My driver was yelling at other drivers on the road, at one point shouting “You fucking asshole bitch!” Then she turned around (still driving!) to grin at me: “That’s what I say when I don’t know if it’s a man or a woman!” At that point, I decided to just lean back and pretend I was on a carnival ride.
Many years ago, when my mom was teaching me how to drive, she berated me for only using the turning signal after I had started braking for the turn. She explained: “Your turning signal is a signal of intent, not of action.” In other words, people and bots, let others know what you plan to do, don’t just show us what you’re already doing.
It’s not rocket science. Mind your manners and show a bit of empathy. That person who doesn’t spring into action the minute the light turns green? Give them a sec before you honk. That’s a real person in there who just found out their mom has cancer, or whose dog just died, or who has terrible insomnia, or who simply happened to be looking in a different direction when the light changed. During the end of my marriage and my divorce, the car was the only place I could cry, so I cried myself to and from work for nearly two years. I’m sure I wasn’t the best driver on the road during that time! I try to remember that when I get impatient. And I try to remember that the old guy in the hat drifting around his lane who irritates the daylights out of me is probably going to have his license—and thus his independence—removed soon, and that really sucks for him.
I love a nice smooth ride. I go home at lunchtime during the week to let the dogs out, so I’m on the road multiple times a day. It’s just lovely when everyone is driving smoothly at or just above the speed limit, using their signals, moving into the lane they need with plenty of time to spare, and allowing others to move around as well. When backed-up traffic remembers to leave intersections clear for others to turn, when people wave each other in and wave thanks, when drivers show some planning and consideration—that’s good drive.