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A Field Guide to Bad Drivers - Part 2

I'm seeing more craziness out on the roadways than ever. Since it's my sacred duty as a middle-aged suburban male to teach everyone else how to drive, I've decided we could use another one of these (plus it's fun).

In the first installment I stereotyped, ahem, "categorized" these folks by what they drive. This time around we'll look at some of the crazy stunts I've seen out there.

Better buckle up, this could get interesting.

1. The Weaver

attribution: None Specified
Good luck with that.
They've got places to be and things to do that are obviously more important than you. That's why they constantly changes lanes like an NFL running back heading for the end zone. Left, center, right, center, right again, you get the idea. Turn signals are strictly optional and usually not employed.

In rush hour traffic all this extra effort puts them maybe three car-lengths ahead of you, getting them to their destination roughly 30 seconds earlier than they would have otherwise.

That looks like a lot of extra work. Sure hope it was worth it.


2. The Left-Lane Hog

Sums it up nicely.
This person drives #1 crazy. They're unsure of the concept that the left lane is mainly for passing so they like to camp out there all day. They either don't have much grasp of what's going on around them, or maybe they just don't care. Either way they're not helping.


3. The Passive-Aggressive


This person behaves a lot like #2 except they know exactly what they're doing. They're either trying to be the self-appointed enforcer of the speed limit or they're just doing it to mess with driver #1. Are they a jerk or just an idiot? You decide. They may not have road-rage, but they're probably causing it.


4. The Just Plain Aggressive

AKA - everybody in Boston. Don't make eye contact, they'll take it as a challenge. Don't signal, it just gives away your intentions and lets them speed up to cut you off. Be sure to carryplenty of insurance.

They are at least have the benefit of being predictable.


5. The Cautious to a Fault

Just got passed by a kid on a skateboard
This person is "too much of a good thing" personified. They're often found in the center lane, driving 10-15 mph less than everyone else. You'll see freeway traffic parting in a laminar flow around them on either side.

Oh, and if the pavement is a little wet or heaven-forbid has snow on it? Fuhgetaboutit! Hope you weren't in a hurry to get anywhere.

Look, it's good to be safe, but if driving is that scary just think how safe you'd be if you never left the house.


6. The Last-Second Decision Maker

This won't end well.
Hey! That's my exit over there! Extra points if you cross at least three lanes of traffic getting to it.

I saw someone hit the median once while pulling this stunt. It wasn't pretty.

Don't. Just don't.


7. The Rolling Roadblock

What you'll be seeing for the next half hour or so.
OK, I understand, driving a truck is a tough job and the pay sucks. Still, there's nothing more frustrating than getting stuck behind the truck going 56 mph who's trying to pass the truck going 55 mph. It's like watching two glaciers drag race.

Now I've been told that many trucks are governed to where they can only go one or two miles over the speed limit. Fine, I'll grant you that, but then why bother passing?

8. The Squid

Look ma! No brains!
I had to look this one up. Apparently "squid" is motorcyclist slang for "squirrely kid". Doesn't matter what he's called (and it's almost invariably a he), you've seen him. Young guy riding more bike than he's able to handle. Also loves to do wheelies and other "hey look at me!" maneuvers.

Safety gear? Not needed. He's invincible. How would you see how cool he looks if he was wearing a helmet, or a shirt.

Assuming he lives he'll likely end up as the poster-child for skin graft research.


9. The Kamikaze Lane-Splitter

Motorcycle lane splitting is legal in california
What could possibly go wrong?
"Lane splitting" is when a motorcyclist rides between the lanes of traffic. It's actually legal in some states. Since I'm not brave enough to ride motorcycles any more I'll let others debate whether or not this is a smart move.

This guy isn't your garden variety lane-splitter, however. He'll come rocketing between lanes of traffic so fast he's a blur, engine wound to the red-line, his modified exhaust screaming. First time it happened to me it took a second to even register what it was. Sometimes they travel in packs so watch for his wingmen.

I guess someone needs to keep ambulance drivers in business.


10. The Fearless Urban Cyclist

Soon to be one less hipster
NAFD - No Apparent Fear of Dying

Look, I like bicycles. I enjoy riding mine very much. I don't enjoy it when they dart out into traffic in front of me. Some drivers hate us enough as it is, we don't need to be pissing them off by breaking traffic laws.


11. Memphis

Needs no caption
I've saved the best for last. I've driven everywhere in the country. Chicago, New York, LA, Miami, Dallas and yes even Boston. Memphis is in a class by itself. I don't know what they're putting in the water down there, but they can't be matched for sheer unpredictability anywhere this side of Italy.

I've seen it all. Giant dually pickups barreling up the left lane at 90 mph passing elderly couples going 45. People coming at me wrong way on an exit ramp. Ten miles per hour over the limit will just get you tailgated - by a cop.

Be sure to watch out for the guy running the red light, and the other two cars following him.

And whatever you do, if they happen to get that rare once-a-year snowfall do not drive that day.

Be careful out there folks.


A Field Guide to Bad Drivers

I see a lot of crazy stuff out on the roadways any more. You may think your state has the worst drivers in the country, but I travel all over and I see it everywhere I go.

Mind you I'm biased. As a middle-aged male it's my sworn duty to teach everyone else how to drive. Or as George Carlin once put it "Anyone going slower than me is a stupid idiot and anyone going faster than me is a raging maniac".

You may even see yourself in here. I'm at least two of these depending on which car I'm driving.

So in no particular order, here's a handy guide to what to watch out for out there.


1. The macho trucker

Not actual size
If you haven't seen this guy yet, you will. About 2 inches off your rear bumper. Screw safety, his F350 Super Duty makes him invulnerable (or so he thinks). Besides, he's in a hurry. A big hurry. Who cares if you're already going 75 in a 65? It's not fast enough damn it and he's not shy about letting you know it.

Best not to provoke him. These days there's a good chance he's carrying a gun.

2. The Hot Head

You don't want to know what he's saying.
Usually male, but not not always. He's angry. Real angry. About what, nobody really knows. Best not to find out. Give them a wide berth and try not to make eye contact.

3. The Multi-Tasker

attribution: None Specified
The poster child for self-driving cars
These come in all flavors, but most seem to be young women. She can do it all - put on makeup, talk on the phone, drink coffee. She can do everything except drive.

4. The Prius Driver

attribution: None Specified
I love this ad
Don't get me wrong, the Prius is a great car. The people that drive them are generally good people and they mean well. They're just too busy saving the planet to use their turn signals or look where they're going.

5. The Passive-Aggressive Minivan Driver

He doesn't look happy.
I like minivans. They're roomy, comfortable and almost invisible to state troopers. Who's the cop going to pick out of the crowd, the blue Sienna or the red Mustang with the hood scoop and spoilers?

That being said, some men seem to get upset when they get stuck driving the minivan. It seemingly makes them feel emasculated and they have to take it out on the rest of us. Best to avoid.

6. The Boy Racer

Take that tires!
Back in my day he probably drove a V8 powered Chevy Nova or Dodge Dart. Today he's more likely to be found in a hot Subaru WRX or a heavily modified Honda Civic. I'd have been this guy but my first car was a 73 Bug, and there's only so much trouble you can get into in a 73 Bug (believe me I tried).

Best to get out of his way and let the cops and/or EMTs deal with him.

7. Das Auto

You don't want to know how much it costs
Let's face it. The "Ultimate Driving Machine" just isn't much fun at US speed limits. Big German sedans are made to go fast and their drivers would prefer you get out of their way and let them do so. I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm sometimes this guy when I'm driving my Audi. Sorry.

8. The distracted SUV driver

I'm not even sure how you could do this
She really didn't mean to hit you. She was just too busy dealing with her kids in the back seat. Frequently found in mall parking lots. Approach with extreme caution.

9. The cool guy

He's cool
I'm sure you've seen him. He likes to sit waaaaaaaay back. So far back you can hardly see him. He probably can't see you either, not that he cares. Usually drives with one hand draped casually on top of the steering wheel. He's much too cool for turn signals, or to even turn his head when changing lanes - which he seems to do quite frequently.

10. The beater

He'll call your bluff because he's got nothing to lose. There's not much that you can do to his car that hasn't already been done. This is me when I'm driving my '94 Buick airport car. Watch out for: leaking fluids, loose steering, poor brakes, parts falling off.

My airport car. The good thing about the color is it hides the rust.


11. The senior citizen

Me in 20 years
They were once a good driver, sometime around the Eisenhower administration. Unfortunately the eyesight and reflexes just aren't what they used to be. Often cautious to a fault. You'll likely find them doing 50, in the middle lane of the interstate, with traffic desperately trying to get around them. Watch out for slowing to a near stop before making a turn.

12. New York Cab Driver

Be afraid. Be very afraid.
'nuff said.

I hope you found this mildly amusing. I'm sure I left a few out so feel free to add your own.

And please be careful out there.

Keeping Eyes on Distracted Driving's Toll

While driving a car, have you ever:

• Reprogrammed your GPS device?
• Retrieved something you or a child dropped?
• Searched for a particular CD?
• Put on makeup or shaved?
• Struggled to open a package of nuts or chips?

Perhaps you never have texted or talked on a cellphone while operating a motor vehicle. But if you engaged in any of the above activities, you are just as guilty of distracted driving as if you had.
It’s easy to become complacent. Maybe you’re a good driver, and you’ve gotten away with such actions for years. Maybe you managed to avert a near-accident when your attention returned to the road in the nick of time. But one of these days, your luck may run out and you, or someone you hit, could be maimed for life or dead.
“Driving while distracted is roughly equivalent to driving drunk,” Dr. Amy N. Ship, an internist at Harvard Medical School, wrote last year in a commentary in The New England Journal of Medicine. “Any activity that distracts a driver visually or cognitively increases the risk of an accident. None of them is safe.”
Following widespread publicity about the hazards of distracted driving, including a Pulitzer-prize winning series in this newspaper, medical groups are working hard to make patients more aware of the problem. The most recent effort was started last week by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Orthopaedic Trauma Association, whose “Decide to Drive” campaign calls attention to the increasing number of distractions engaged in by multitasking drivers and the resulting toll on people’s lives.
“We take care of a lot of people injured in car accidents, and distracted driving is a substantial contributor to these accidents,” Dr. Daniel Berry, president of the academy, said in an interview. “If we could get rid of this part of our practice, it would be a great service to the people we care for.”
Orthopedists would do very well, thank you, without the business generated by the 307,369 crashes that have occurred so far this year, according to estimates from the National Safety Council, involving drivers talking on cellphones or texting.
Last year Aaron Brookens of Beloit, Wis., then 19, was driving home at 75 miles an hour after spending a weekend with his girlfriend when he decided to send her a text message — and wound up pinned under a semi. The toll: two broken femurs, a broken kneecap and ankle, nerve damage to both legs, and a lacerated spleen, kidney and liver.
Numerous operations and a lengthy rehab later, Mr. Brookens knows he’s lucky to be alive. “No one thinks it will happen to them,” he said on Wednesday at a news conference convened by the orthopedists. He now realizes that “deciding to drive” is always the best option, and he wants others to learn from his mistake.
“We don’t expect our campaign to change everyone’s behavior overnight,” Dr. Berry said. “It took a lot of years to get the message across about using seat belts or driving drunk. We’re adding our voice to those of others — the more jungle drums, the better.”
Among those beating the drums are the parents of Eric Okerblom, a 19-year-old college student who was struck by a car and killed in 2009 while cycling near his home in Santa Maria, Calif.; the driver, a teenager, was traveling 60 m.p.h. while texting on her cellphone. His father, Bob Okerblom, is now on a cross-country bike ride, blogging along the way in order to spread the word about distracted driving.
Last November, the transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, introduced a Web site called “Faces of Distracted Driving” (distraction.gov/faces) that explores the cost these behaviors inflict on families and communities. “Distracted driving has become a deadly epidemic on America’s roads,” said Mr. LaHood, who urges bans on drivers texting and using phones or other devices.
At the news briefing, Dr. Andrew Pollak, president of the trauma association, said: “It isn’t just cellphones. It’s anything that takes our attention from the task of driving.”
David L. Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, added: “No one does multitasking well.”
The orthopedists’ campaign will try to raise the national consciousness and change future driving behavior by taking their message to schoolchildren, especially those in grades 5 through 8, who may discourage their parents and siblings from driving distracted and refrain themselves when they become drivers.

Statistics and Studies

The National Safety Council estimates that at least 1.6 million crashes — 28 percent of the total — are caused each year by drivers using cellphones or texting. Sometimes those crashes are deadly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2008, approximately one in six fatal vehicle collisions resulted from a driver being distracted.
Yet, when drivers who had an accident or near-accident due to distracted driving were asked, many said they would repeat the hazardous behavior.
Dr. Ship questioned whether talking on the phone is “really any more dangerous than putting on mascara, shaving or reading a map while driving — all things we’ve seen drivers do.” She wrote that although cellphone use is far more widespread than these other activities, “none of them is safe.”
Laws banning the use of handheld cellphones and texting while driving have proliferated around the country in recent years, but no jurisdiction has managed to ban hands-free calls, which studies have indicated may be nearly as hazardous.
University of Utah researchers have shown in studies that conversations on hands-free phones are just as distracting as those on handheld ones. They called the problem one of "inattention blindness."
“Just the act of being on the phone, focusing on the conversation, distracts you from the task at hand — driving,” said Dr. Berry, a professor of orthopedics at the Mayo ClinicCollege of Medicine in Rochester, Minn. “Your mind is somewhere else. It’s not in the car. You’re driving mechanically but not seeing things the same way. It’s different from conversing with someone in the car.”

A Safer Approach

In introducing the public service announcements to accompany the campaign, Chuck Husak of the August Lang Husak advertising agency in Bethesda, Md., said, “When you’re behind the wheel, there’s no such thing as a small distraction.”
Dr. Berry advised, “If you’re going to drive, just drive.” Take care of potentially distracting activities before you start the car. Set the GPS device, pour the coffee or open the soda, make necessary calls, write the memo or shopping list. If you can’t resist answering your cellphone while driving, turn it off and let it take messages.
If you need to make a call, reset the GPS unit, deal with a distressed child or eat a sandwich, pull off the road to do it. The minutes spent being safe could save you countless hours of misery.

You can report distracted driving episodes at decidetodrive.org.


From the New York Times, Tuesday, April 12, 2011




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