Americans drive an average of over 9000 miles a year per capita, or 25 miles per day.* I used to be closer to the national average when I had a painting company – some of the guys that worked with me even called me Sir Drivesalot. These days, because most of my work and projects are at or near my home, I’m probably closer to a third of the national average (and most of my mileage comes from road trips).
What a strange thing it is to hurtle ourselves across the land in giant tin cans going faster than any animal was meant to go. But I appreciate the freedom, the vast possibilities, that vehicles provide us with. My family will be hurtling ourselves out of Colorado, balling the jack through Nebraska and Iowa, and coasting into Wisconsin to visit friends and family in a few weeks.
Road trips can often be pleasurable experiences (kids screaming in the back notwithstanding). But most of those 9000 miles for most of us are spent slogging back and forth to work, often in miasmatic clouds of traffic. People are in a rush, people are unhappy, people are stressed, and nobody wants to be there. Our vehicles become menacing, impersonal machines that separate us from humanity. We find ourselves feeling and acting out of a baseness that rarely rears its head in more personal, face-to-face situations. Horns honking, birds flying, brights flashing, profanities erupting, and occasional fenders bending. Our Hydes come out once we enter the vehicle, leaving our Jekylls at the curb.
I spent many years finding myself enraged when I felt that people weren’t following proper driving etiquette, and righteously feeling I had to apprise the offender of his transgression. I was a traffic vigilante, but it mostly bought me lots of birds, occasional yelling, a baseball bat waving out a window, a gang sign followed by a bird, and a general increase in stress. I’ve since mellowed with age, and I’m less likely to fly off the handle. Still, I’ve accumulated a list of the Top 15 Dick Driving Moves in hopes that the perpetrators of said moves may recognize and thus repent for their actions.
Top 15 Dick Driving Moves
(In no particular order)
- Passing in the Merge Lane: This may be more than just a Dick Move – this could indicate that we’re dealing with an actual Asshole. For some reason, this person feels that his** business is more important than that of all the other people patiently waiting their turn. And what does he get out of it? He’s now 10 cars further up than he would have been if he had just been a nice guy (and the people in those 10 cars are hoping he crashes).
- Lane Weaving: Like the Merge-Lane-Passer, this guy thinks he’s more important than everybody else. He often doesn’t use his blinker as he weaves in and out of lanes, cutting people off and leaving a wake of bitter mumbling.
- Tailgating: A bit of a nudge (figurative, not literal) is acceptable if someone is driving slowly in the left lane. But the people who ride a car’s ass while on a two-lane road or in a line of vehicles are Incorrigible Dicks. Not only is this dangerous, it’s not going to get you there any faster. Relax, ease up on the throttle.
- Running a Red When Someone’s Waiting to Turn: It’s legal to finish a left turn after the light turns red, as long as you’re in the intersection before it turns red; it’s not legal to go straight through an intersection if the light turns red before you get through. If you see someone waiting to turn and the light’s yellow, stop and let them turn. You’re screwing them up, as well as the people in cross traffic who now have to wait while the intersection is cleared.
- Cheating at 4-Way Stop Signs: There are some subcategories here. There’s the guy that stops short when he sees you’re going to get there first – he’s a few feet short of where he’s supposed to stop, but since he stopped first, he gets to go first. Then there’s the guy that coasts through without really stopping – not a terrible thing if he was actually going to get there first and he’s just trying to keep the flow going. Most egregious is of course the guy who just doesn’t wait his turn. And, finally, there’s the guy who doesn’t let pedestrians cross – pedestrians always have the right-of-way at a 4-way stop, regardless of when they arrived.
- Insensitivity to Bikers and Pedestrians: Pedestrians and bikers (I’ll include bicycles as well as motorcycles here) generally don’t kill people in cars when they crash – the reverse is far more likely. When you’re in a one-ton piece of equipment, you have a responsibility not to kill or maim people with it. Watch for peds and give them some leeway. Don’t zip through residential neighborhoods, where little guys like my son are still iffy on the whole look-both-ways thing. Give bikes a nice berth when passing. Don’t hammer it around bikers, only to turn right in front of them – you really needed to make that turn one second earlier than if you had just waited for the bike? And, obviously, don’t do shit like this.***
- Hitching a Ride: I mean this in the sense of following a faster driver on the highway, presumably to let them get the speeding ticket. I actually did this once in my younger, more Dickish days. Unless you have a really cool lead car, most people aren’t too jubilant about you getting in their space on the open road, especially at night when constant headlights in the rearview is annoying.
- Driving Too Fast for the Weather: In the Colorado mountains, it’s common for people to show how manly they are by continuing to speed, even in adverse conditions. I’m all for going a little over the speed limit in regular conditions, especially on longer drives (I generally keep it at about 5 over), but guys need to tamp down the testosterone when the roads get slick or icy.
- Not Giving the Wave: I just let you in; it follows that you now do me the courtesy of giving me the wave, acknowledging my benevolence.
- Not Using Signals: Often this is the same guy as the Lane Weaver. Using your blinker while shifting lanes is like saying “Pardon me.” Not using it is like crop dusting in a crowd. But the bigger Dick Move is not using your turn signal when it’s necessary to show your intentions: “Why is this guy stopping in the middle of the road right in front of me? Oh, he’s turning into a driveway. Dick!”
- Environmental Dickishness: This is where Local Dickishness becomes Global Dickishness. Passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks account for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Driving less is the best move: bust out the bike or the legs, move closer to work, move work closer to you, use public transportation. When you must drive: find a car (or motorcycle) that gets 40+ mpg, get an electric vehicle or hybrid, carpool. And no matter what you drive, you can drive more efficiently: don’t warm up your car by letting it idle; don’t idle at banks, when talking with friends, while running into the post office; ease into your accelerations; pick routes that involve less starting and stopping; hypermile (without tailgating, of course). Not only do vehicle emissions contribute to climate change, they also contribute to local air pollution, leading to more early deaths than car crashes do each year. The added bonus to helping save the world by driving less (or more efficiently) is that it also saves you Money. Yes, you have the right to commute 100 miles alone each day in your F250, but that’s a big stinky fart in our global elevator.
- Distracted Driving: Cars are lethal weapons. Maybe we should adopt the Cooper Color Code for driving awareness. According to this code, generally used for combat awareness, White is a condition of dangerous unawareness, while Yellow is being aware of the threats around us. Most of us have become so accustomed to driving that we’re closer to the White end of the spectrum – texting, talking on the phone, spacing out, shaving, watching a movie, shaving while talking on the phone and watching a movie. We need to be closer to the Yellow condition, alert to what’s going on around us, so we’re prepared to shift into Orange (recognizing a specific and possibly imminent threat) or Red (taking action to avoid that threat).****
- Passivity: I’m not sure if this is really a Dick Move. It has more to do with an abundance of caution, but it can reach a level of annoyance that becomes Dickish. This is the person that won’t turn right on red, even if there are no cars, or won’t make that left turn when the light turns yellow, or drives so painfully slow that you could walk past them. Can a sweet, little old lady be a Dick? Yes, but let’s not come down too hard on them.
- Left-Lane Driving: This person spends much of his time in the left lane, regardless of whether he’s passing, and invariably screws up traffic by getting stuck next to a vehicle that’s going the same speed. A subcategory of this Dick Move is the guy that pulls out to pass in front of you when you’re clearly going at a faster clip. Often this has to do with a crappy sense of spatial awareness. People with good spatial awareness see the patterns of traffic: whether other vehicles are going faster or slower and how this will affect the immediate future. Good drivers adjust their speed or position in order to help, rather than hinder, the flow of traffic.
- Vigilantism: This was my old affliction. This involves taking matters into your own hands when you see one of the above Dick Moves being perpetrated. This can often go awry, though, resulting in an escalation of the overall Dickishness on the road. If a car cuts you off while you’re driving with your family and you feel you must correct this foolishness by driving within an inch of his bumper, honking and yelling, you have put yourself and your family in danger. A better way to assuage your vigilantic tendencies might be to write a blog post lambasting people for Dick Driving Moves.
One of the more tragicomic aspects of many of these Dick Moves is that they’re not really getting people to their destinations much faster. Because of traffic queuing algorithms, a speeding, aggressive driver will often arrive at his destination at the same time as or only slightly before the nice, relaxed drivers he so rudely harried on their way to work. Traffic lights, and even traffic itself, tend to even things out. For example, if someone drives 90 in a 55, but still ends up at the same stop lights as the guy that’s going 55, he has saved no time. If he happens to catch one or two more stop lights than the non-speeder, he’s still only one or two stop lights ahead, which is at most a few minutes on a 30-minute commute – was that worth endangering yourself and all those other people? Remember Focker trying to race DeNiro home in Meet the Parents? Likewise, traffic itself has a dampening effect on one’s speed. Lane Weaver will likely move only a few cars further up the queue by the time he arrives, sweating and angry, at his presumably awesome job.
One way that I’ve been able to attenuate my vigilantism and increase my peace of mind while driving (aside from driving less), is to recognize that most Dick Driving Moves were done more out of ignorance than malice. These people may have committed a Dick Move, but generally they’re not actual Dicks. This makes it easier to let it slide. By being nice, courteous drivers, we can reclaim some of the humanity that was lost when we stepped into our vehicles. Nobody wants to end up like this:
*This number has gone down for nine straight years now, reflecting changing demographics, the economic downturn, higher gas prices, and possibly more people working from home. And, if I can be naively optimistic, maybe it also reflects a growing awareness of our impact on climate change.
**The vast majority of Dick Drivers are men, so I’ll use the male pronoun here. Not that women are exempt – there are plenty of Dick Women Drivers, too.
***This Asshole Driver is actually from my town, Longmont. In the 15 years I’ve lived here, Longmont has become much more biker-friendly, thanks in part to Bike Night, some weekly rides organized by a friend of mine, but this guy didn’t get the memo.
****Lest we get too stressed out about how dangerous vehicles are, vehicles killed less than one-tenth as many people (~34,000) as either cigarettes or obesity-related causes in 2012 – that’s a little over one fatality per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. So maybe we should also practice a little more of the Yellow mindset when it comes to things like eating carbs.