Sunday Drivers

I was on a supply run to the grocery store this morning and was stuck behind a Toyota Camry for most of the way. The entire trip takes place on two-lane roads that are hilly and curved enough to prohibit passing, so I was trapped. It’s a mellow Sunday morning, and there’s no use (ever) letting other drivers get to you. I’m not one to play the tailgating game, but the four vehicles stuck behind me were stacked up tightly.

In fact, once I realized it was a Camry, I started laughing. For a long time now, I’ve had a perception that when you’re stuck behind a particularly bad driver—one that stands out from the usual bad drivers—there is a good chance the car is a Camry. I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one with that perception; I’ve heard others make the same rant.  But it is a fact that there are a huge number of them on the road, and they age well, so odds are high on any car in front of you being a Camry.

This is related to the “full moon fallacy” which is based on the perception that, for example, cops and ER workers have about full moons definitely resulting in weird things. And they have first-hand experience to support the assertion!

The problem is confirmation bias. Weird things happening outside a full moon are ignored as background, but when it is a full moon, then it’s a data point. No objective analysis supports the idea of full moon weirdness. (I wish I could mount a camera on my car to record every truly bone-head driver. Then I could analyze this objectively. Who knows; maybe Camry drivers really are that bad.)

That said, it sure seems that some of the most bone-headed things I’ve ever seen were committed by Camry drivers. This morning’s example can be Prosecution Exhibit A.

Now, it’s a trivial aggravation being stuck behind someone who is going a few miles under the speed limit if you feel conditions justify, at least the speed limit. When the weather is clear and both pedestrian and auto traffic is light or non-existent, even a few miles over the limit  is okay in my book.  I feel that, when conditions are good, up to +5 on surface streets, and up to +10 on freeways, is acceptable.

But you really can’t fault someone for driving the speed limit or even just a few miles below it. Going 30 in a 35 (as the Camry was doing) starts to get into WTF territory, but no laws are being broken, and it’s really just a minor inconvenience. It turns your 10-minute trip into an 11.7-minute trip. Big deal.

It could be they have good reason for being slow. They could be timid behind the wheel or old or inexperienced. Maybe they are especially law-abiding or playing it safe in a suburban neighborhood.  If going slower were the extent of things, I wouldn’t be writing this post.

Many years ago I lived in a rural area south of the city and drove a long two-lane road back and forth to work every day. Most of that road was posted for 55 MPH. As it neared my small town, it went down to 45 MPH and two miles further down to 35 MPH for the stretch through town. Much of the road was too hilly or curved for passing, so a slow driver traps you.

A thing I noticed is that some people drove 50 on the 55, but also 50 in the 45. They might slow down to 40+ in the 35 zone. So it’s clearly not a matter of being especially law-abiding or generally slow, and it’s certainly not a matter of being especially safe (since you’re speeding in the one place where it’s worst to do so).

What it is, and there is no other way to put this, is being a fucking moron.

This morning’s Camry driver proved to be exactly such a moron. She rolled through the first red light right turn as well as the only stop sign a mile later. In both cases, during the slowest part of the “stop” her car was halfway beyond the stop point and protruding into the intersection. Then she turned into the grocery store parking lot entrance and cut diagonally across the lot, weaving through parked cars, to the Nail Salon at the other end.  A far smarter, safer, move would have been to take the next entrance and the short parking lot lane to her destination.

So we’re clearly talking oblivious, mindless, clueless fucking moron.

Maybe it’s that I learned to drive in Los Angeles, a place where they take (or took; for all I know that’s changed) driving very seriously. Older readers may recall a rash of freeway shootings (no one was killed, if I recall correctly), and in all cases the cause of the shooting was bad driving. (That business was parodied in one of my all-time favorite movies, Steve Martin‘s L.A. Story.)

Someday I’ll write a series of posts about bad driving and how to drive better, but for now this is just a captured morning moment. It’s a very trivial thing compared to, say, the atrocities of war or violent assault or poverty or starvation, but in terms of those everyday things, bad drivers rank high on my list of irritations.

At least in part that’s based on how we all take it for granted as a casual, daily thing, but we’re controlling heavy machinery with the power to maim and kill. Traffic accidents are a leading cause of death in this country, so clearly we could do better. (Traffic collisions rank 6th as a cause of preventable death in the USA; over 40,000 die per year, and over two-million are injured.)

There’s a thing about driving and sex. Everyone thinks they’re pretty good at it while, at the same time, thinking it doesn’t require any real training. Meanwhile the reality is that most people are a lot worse at it than they believe and could really use the training.

With regard to speeding, there is a traffic engineering rule (85th percentile rule) that says traffic goes at a natural speed for the road and the conditions, regardless of posted limits. An implication of this some people just don’t get is that, if the traffic is going ten miles over the limit, but you’re doggedly sticking to the limit, you are a traffic hazard!

The irony is that you are probably sticking to the limit in the name of safety and wishing every one else would do the same. It won’t happen. Ever. So get your head out of your ass, keep up and stop being a hazard. It’s that simple.

Driving in traffic is like a dance, and everyone needs to keep in step.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

4 responses to “Sunday Drivers

  • It's only P!

    Hell Wyrd, did you take that woman home with you? 😛 I mean, she got so under your skin that you devoted a post to her? Well, it was worth all your frustration because I laughed my head off. Thank god mine’s a Corolla!!! I’m a spiffy driver, damnit!

  • Wyrd Smythe

    [laugh] Problem is, she got under my skin in the wrong way!

    I’m glad you laughed! I was actually chuckling and shaking my head the whole time, and as you say, it was worth it in making me decide it was high time I wrote my Camrys post!

  • dianasschwenk

    I do agree with you on the natural flow of traffic!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      When I drove in L.A. I could read the pattern, but here in the Midwest it seems too random to grok. I think it’s because everyone is more dancing to their own tune.

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